In this posting we’ll discuss how the futurist view of the antichrist found its way into Protestant teaching. In Steve’s book, this chapter is called “The Path of the Virus”, which is a fitting analogy. It is astonishing to me that many of us (myself included) have never taken the time to learn these things. Once again, the world keeps us too busy to really look into what is important. These are things that we all need to know, because ultimately, true knowledge and wisdom from God’s Word will lead you to salvation in Jesus Christ. Lack of knowledge and wisdom will lead you to an eternal life in desolation. “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). What does God say about worldly knowledge and wisdom? “for the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:19). Worldly knowledge and wisdom is foolishness. All the Doctorate degrees in the world won’t help you gain knowledge and wisdom of what is truly important – God and His plan of salvation for us. True knowledge and wisdom come from God. You must ask God through Prayer for the truth.
Let’s continue our history lesson with “End Time Delusions”:
Oh, how powerfully the magnet of illusion attracts. –Karl Gutzkow (1811-1878)
Code Red, Melissa, Sircam, Nimba, Loveletter, Klez, Mydoom – what do they all have in common? They’re computer viruses that can turn one’s beloved laptop or PC into a terribly malfunctioning machine that becomes good for nothing. Just as Osama bin Laden became public enemy number one to the United States after September 11, 2001, even so has the computer virus become public enemy number one to all who sit before a monitor.
This chapter is about prophecy, not computers, nevertheless we can learn many spiritual lessons from the virus. As we have plainly seen, the Protestant reformers held two core beliefs: 1) Salvation is through the all-sufficient merits of Jesus Christ alone; and 2) Papal Rome is the antichrist of Scripture. Their prophetic perspective was called historicism. In the language of computers, we might say that historicism was their basic prophetic operating system, much like Windows XP is now the main operating system for most PCs. Even though computer programs and systems become quickly outdated because of upgrades to better versions, it is an amazing fact that historicism remained intact as the primary operating system of most Protestant churches for almost 400 years.
But in our 21st century, historicism has faded and futurism is in as the majority report. What happened? How did the seismic shift take place? The story is both fascinating and tragic. Here are the highlights. We have already seen that at the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church reacted against the Reformation by commissioning members of the Jesuit Order to counteract historicism. In a short time, Alcasar and Ribera put forth their anti-Protestant counter-theories. In this chapter, the inroads of Ribera’s influence into Protestantism will be traced because, although Alcasar’s preterism is now making renewed progress into churches, Ribera’s teaching is overwhelmingly dominant.
Shortly after the Council of Trent, with the blessing of the Pope, Francisco Ribera master-minded a virus, the virus of futurism. For the next 300 years his Jesuit cohorts did their best to insert this virus into Protestant churches, especially through educational processes connected with the universities of Europe, but they failed. Protestants were too smart and they consistently blocked futurism’s entrance. In addition to effective Holy Spirit virus protection, they basically said, “Sorry. We don’t open foreign attachments!”
But in the 1800’s they dropped their guard. The futurism of Ribera never posed a positive threat to the Protestants for three centuries. It was virtually confined to the Roman Church. But early in the nineteenth century it sprang forth with vehemence and latched on to Protestants of the Established Church of England.
Dr. Samuel Roffey Maitland (1792-1866), a British lawyer and Bible scholar, became a librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth. It is likely that one day he discovered Ribera’s commentary in the library. In any event, in 1826 he published a widely read book attacking the Reformation and supporting the Jesuit idea of a future Mr. Antichrist person. For the next ten years, in tract after tract, he continued his anti-Reformation rhetoric.
After Dr. Maitland came James H. Todd, professor of Hebrew at the University of Dublin. Giving credit to Maitland, Todd published his own futuristic pamphlets and books. Commenting on the views of Maitland and another so-called Protestant (Mr. Burgh), E.B. Elliott reported how these “two Protestant writers excused the Papacy from any concern with the predicted antichristian apostasy.”
Next player: John Henry Newman (1801-1890), a member of the Church of England and a leader of the famous Oxford movement. In 1850, Newman wrote his “Letter on Anglican Difficulties” blatantly revealing that one of the goals of the movement was to lead “the various English denominations and parties” back to Rome. The “Oxford Tracts” gave fresh weight to “anti-Protestant opinions,” gave “assistance to the laborers of the futurist school,” worked to “unprotestantize the Church of England” and “set aside all application to the Roman Papacy of the fearful prophecies respecting antichrist.” After publishing his own pamphlet about a future Mr. Sinister, Newman himself became a Catholic, and later a highly honored cardinal. Through the combined influences of Maitland, Todd, Burgh, Newman and others, a definite “Romeward movement had arisen that destined to sweep away the old Protestant landmarks, as with a flood.” The virus was sneaking in.
Then came the Scottish Presbyterian minister Edward Irving (1792-1834) who pastured the large Chalcedonian Chapel in London with over 1,000 members. Co-founder of The Society for the Investigation of Prophecy, Irving eventually accepted the one-man antichrist idea of Newman, Burgh, Todd, Maitland, Bellarmine and Ribera, yet he went a step further. Somewhere around 1830, Edward Irving began to teach the novel idea of a two-phase return of Christ, the first phase being a secret rapture before the rise of antichrist. Where he got this concept is a matter of hot dispute. Christian journalist Dave MacPherson has researched this matter for many years. In his investigative books – The Rapture Plot and The Incredible Cover-Up – Mr. MacPherson suggests Irving snatched it from a young Scottish girl named Margaret MacDonald who first “saw” it during an ecstatic “revelation”. Regardless of where Irving got it, the fact is, he taught it!
In the midst of this growing anti-Protestant climate in England came the man we talked about earlier, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). A brilliant lawyer, pastor and theologian, Darby wrote more than 53 books on Bible subjects. On the positive side, he staunchly defended the infallibility of the Scriptures against British liberalism and soon became one of the leaders of an English group called the Plymouth Brethren. Darby’s contribution to the development of evangelical theology has been so great he has been called The Father of Modern Dispensationalism. Yet John Nelson Darby, like Edward Irving, not only became a champion for the pre-tribulation rapture idea (some say he grabbed it from Irving, others say he found it on his own), but also of a future antichrist who appears only after we disappear. Both teachings – a secret rapture and a future Mr. antichrist – are now dispensational pillars.
Reporting on Irving and Darby’s rapture-then-antichrist views, MacPherson wrote:
Into this [futurist] system both Darby and Irving had injected a further refinement, based upon a declared attempt to reconcile the different parts of the New Testament which they considered to be relevant. In their view, the Second Advent would take place in two stages: first, there would be a quiet appearance – the “presence” – of Christ, when all true Christians, the true Church, would be removed from the earth. This was the “rapture of the saints”. Only then, when the restraining presence of the Holy Spirit in His own people had been removed from the world scene, would antichrist arise. His rule would be brought to an end by the second stage of the Advent – the public “appearing” of Christ in glory.
Concerning the highly probable link to Margaret MacDonald, MacPherson testified:
Since Margaret MacDonald was the first person to teach a coming of Christ that would precede the days of antichrist, it necessarily follows that Darby – back to whom pre-tribism can easily be traced – was at least the second or third or even further down the line. To date, no solid evidence has been found that proves that anyone other than this young Scottish lassie was the first person to teach a future coming of Christ before the days of antichrist. Before 1830, Christians had always believed in a single future coming, that the “catching up” of 1 Thessalonians 4 will take place after the Great Tribulation of Mathew 24 at the glorious coming of the Son of Man when He shall send His angels to gather together all of His elect.
Whether she realized it or not, Margaret did her part to pave the way for the doctrine that would demand separate waiting rooms at the end of this age – one for the church and another one for Israel!
In light of MacPherson’s careful research, it seems Margaret MacDonald’s pre-antichrist “rapture revelation” is the real smoking gun behind Darby’s theology. Regardless, the essential pre-tribulationism of Margaret’s doctrine soon became a weapon of mass deception in the hands of Darby and his dispensationalist followers.
One of the most important figures in this whole drama is Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921), a Kansas lawyer who was greatly influenced by the writings of Darby. In 1909, Scofield published the first edition of his famous Scofield Reference Bible. In the early 1900’s, this Bible became so popular in American Protestant Bible schools that literally millions of copies were printed. What made Scofield’s Bible so energizing was not so much the Scripture itself, but his footnotes. Yet those footnotes contained the virus. Anti-Reformation interpretations were inserted that pointed the finger away from papal Rome and toward a future antichrist. As 20th century American Protestants “downloaded” Scofield’s notes into their unsuspecting brains, the virus attacked file after file linked to historicism, clicking “delete”.
The Moody Bible Institute and the Dallas Theological Seminary have strongly supported the teachings of John Nelson Darby. Thus these firmly Christian institutions, in spite of the good they have done and continue to do, have unknowingly enabled the virus to do what viruses do best – multiply rapidly.
Then in the 1970’s, Pastor Hal Lindsey, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, released his blockbuster book, The Late Great Planet Earth. This 177 page, easy-to-read volume brought futurism to the masses of American Christianity, and beyond. The New York Times labeled it, “The number one best-seller of the decade.” Over 30 million copies have been sold and it has been translated into over 30 languages. Through The Late Great Planet Earth, the Jesuit virus of futurism made incredible progress in its ancient intelligence strategy to replace historicism as the prophetic operating system of the Protestant world.
Enter Left Behind. In the 1990’s, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins took the future Mr. Evil idea of Hal Lindsey, Scofield, Darby, Irving, Newman, Todd, Maitland and the Jesuit Ribera, and turned it into “the most successful Christian-fiction series ever” (Publisher’s Weekly). Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was largely theological, while Left Behind is a fast-moving sequence of highly imaginative novels “overflowing with suspense, action and adventure” (Entertainment Weekly). The novels have reached the bestseller lists of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and have even resulted in an interview of LaHaye and Jenkins on Larry King Live. Left Behind books are now available at Wal-mart, Costco, Target, airports and inside countless other stores. The central figure of this blockbuster series is Nicolae Carpathia, representing Mr. Nightmare himself, the after-the-rapture antichrist. The result? Through Left Behind, the virus of futurism has multiplied exponentially and practically taken over the prophecy-minded Christian world. Most Christians expect a future antichrist, which means Protestantism’s original operating system has crashed!
Tragically, historicism has been knocked down by a powerful punch, but let me clarify something – it’s not entirely out of the boxing ring. Though not as popular as it once was, historicism lives. God’s truth never dies.
In the light of history, the Protestant Reformation, and a correct understanding of the Bible’s antichrist prophecies, in this sense only, historicism is a the good virus. Who is bold enough to upload the truth? Dear friend, an essential component of this good virus – the biblical truth about the antichrist – when rightly understood, will blow both preterism and futurism into a million pieces. It may be painful, but it needs to happen for the sake of Christians everywhere.
Truth may be in the minority, but don’t forget, its power is limitless. In the 1500’s, it started with individuals like Martin Luther. He studied the Word of God and then inserted its high-voltage force into European Christianity. Through the Holy Spirit’s power, Luther and his associates helped dissipate the Dark Ages. The Reformation shook the world.
In the 21st century, God again wants to shake the world (see Revelation 18:1).
He’s looking for heroes to upload His good virus.
So, now you know how Nicolae Carpathia was born. Very sobering history lesson. Let’s take a look at how this happened through spiritual eyes. Let’s start by stating who our true enemy is. Who does the Bible say is our enemy? People walking around with us on the Earth? No. Our enemies are spiritual forces of evil and wickedness. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12). So, our true enemy is satan and his demonic forces. Let’s think about our enemy for a second. Does he plan and scheme against us? Absolutely. “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:11). What do these schemes lead to? What is the devil trying to do to us? “The thief [satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10). To summarize who are enemy is and what he is trying to do:
1. Our enemies are spiritual forces of evil (satan), not human beings.
2. Satan plans and schemes against us using temptations, people not filled with the Holy Spirit, etc.
3. The goal of our enemy is to destroy us…..physically, mentally, financially, spiritually.
So, knowing this, how can our enemy use futurism against us? It may seem trivial at first, but let’s think this through. Our enemy slithers into Christ’s Church after the fall of the Roman Empire and takes over. The simple message of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is pushed out and man-made rituals and worldly religious traditions are installed (sounds very similar to what the enemy did to religion leading up to and during Christ’s time on earth). A simple invention, the printing press, leads to the printing of millions of copies of the Bible being distributed throughout Europe (Think that was a coincidence? – don’t forget, we’re in a war). The Reformation results from the spreading of God's Word and the papal system is labeled as the antichrist. Now, if you’re the enemy, you’ve got a problem. Hundreds of thousands of souls are leaving the church you’ve infiltrated. They are flocking to the Truth. What’s the initial solution? Let’s kill and torture as many of these “reformers” as possible and drive everyone back to the “mother church” by fear. The problem is that the Holy Spirit is working through these saints and they are not backing down. In fact, it just solidifies their beliefs that the Roman Church is the antichrist. Regardless of death and torture, they are standing for Jesus Christ. So, the enemy tries another tactic that he’s good at – deception. Futurism is introduced, our enemy waits patiently, and after 300 years, the deception takes hold. Attention is diverted from the truth. Everyone is looking into the future (perpetually) and not paying attention to what is happening in the here and now.
What are a couple of things that Christians (and some non-Christians) today are looking for in order to determine when the antichrist will come on the scene? The pre-tribulation rapture, a rebuilt Jewish temple and an antichrist peace treaty with Israel. Think about what happens when these things don’t happen. Think about what the enemy will try to do when horrific wars break out, plagues, famine and diseases get worse and …..no rapture. Think about the “beasts” persecuting God’s saints endlessly and ……no rapture. What do you think the enemy will whisper in our ears then? I’ve got an idea……Where’s God? Where’s the rapture? Doesn’t God’s word say you should be out of here? You’re not out of here, so either you’re not a true Christian or God’s Word isn’t true. He will attack our faith......and he's been planning this for hundreds of years. Remember, our enemy has an IQ of around a billion (don’t quote me). He’s planning and scheming against us. He wants to destroy us. The whole futurist theory is a deception by our enemy. It’s harmless now, but it won’t be harmless much longer. The other problem is that true Christians are waiting around for a rapture instead of putting on the armor of God and preparing for the spiritual battles we face.
What will the spiritual battles look like? It’s not hard to see. All we have to do is look back into history at the first Protestants to see what true faith looks like. The next posting will take a look at what they faced. Ladies and gentlemen, in wars there are casualties. A good soldier can put the fear of battle away and focus on the fight at hand. We must be able to do the same. We don’t fight with the weapons of this world, but it is a life and death battle nonetheless. Remember – “One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed” (Revelation 13:3). Although the saints of the Reformation wounded the beast with the Sword of God’s Word, the beast is on its way back. It will be joined with another worldwide political beast (we’ll discuss this beast in future postings). These beasts will “make war on God’s saints”. Are you ready? When I say ready, I mean have you put on God’s armor (Ephesians 6)? Are you ready to die for our Savior? You may be thinking that this statement is a bit harsh. After all, things are pretty good right now. Not for long. It’s the truth of what we face. What we’re going to face is worse than what the Reformers faced in the Dark Ages. We must be prepared to discern the Mark (this will be much more deceiving than a simple microchip) and resist it. God is looking for warriors to rise up and take the battle to the enemy. I leave you with Psalm 94:16-17.
“Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against the evildoers? Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.”