By Ron Halbrook
Armageddon when? Now, of course! Armageddon Now! has been the rally cry of premillennialists since the early centuries after the establishment of the church and is the title of a study on The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (subtitle/. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1977 published this work by Dwight Wilson, a minister in the Assemblies of God denomination, a third-generation premillennialist, and a history professor at Bethany Bible College in Santa Cruz, California for fourteen years at the time of publication.
Wilson does not attempt to explain the Bible passages used and abused by his premillenarian brethren. He only reports the use of certain passages in various efforts to capitalize on public unrest to gain converts by predicting “an imminent, personal return of Jesus Christ to establish an earthly kingdom which will last a millennium” (p. 11). Though the author cautions his brethren against crying, “Now!” again and again, which creates skepticism, he does not repudiate the earthly reign theory. Still, his material is a veritable arsenal of facts which powerfully refute such a theory.
There are over eight million American premillennialists, concentrated among Southern Baptists; in the “largest entirely premillenarian denomination, the Assemblies of God;” and scattered elsewhere in sects and among major denominations (p. 12). Wilson warns that theories, speculations, and predictions will increase as the year 2,000 draws near enough “to induce a sense of crisis or terror,” and that any continuing trouble in the Middle East will reinforce the trend toward “an ever more deafening roar of ‘Armageddon Now’!” (p. 13)
Two key, independent historical events have played a vital role in premillennial doctrine since November of 1917. The British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, announced his government’s intention to work toward the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jews. The same month saw the rise of a Bolshevik revolution in Russia. These events played into the hands of literalistic interpreters of such prophets as Isaiah and Ezekial, whose theories had become popular during the nineteenth century. The Scofield Reference Bible (1909) has proven to be one of the most effective vehicles for spreading premillenarian ideas, with three million copies published in this century. Its notes (see for instance on Ezek. 38:2) present this scheme: Israel is restored to Palestine, Russia leads a confederacy to invade Palestine, and the Lord returns in a blaze of glory to deliver the Jewish remnant in the Battle of Armageddon – a site west of Jordan in the plain of Jezereel. Thus begins the millennium of His kingdom.
Down through history :various other schemes have been offered – all generally reflecting the national and political interests of the interpreters. For instance; the Turks were identified to lead the invasion of Palestine when they were perceived by British interpreters to be a threat to British aspirations. Repeatedly, wars in Europe and other upheavals have been proclaimed as the inauguration of such end-time events. Some eighty books were published on the subject in England during 1649 alone.
Prophetic movements, journals, and conferences blossomed in nineteenth century England and America, especially during the century’s last quarter, but Russia was of more concern to British interpreters because she threatened their country’s interests. The Jewish Zionist movement for a homeland was aided by premillennialists in so-called Christendom. The Balfour Declaration excited premillennialists on both sides of the Atlantic and as soon as Russia was perceived as a direct threat to American interests, the scheme seemed to be set. The interpreters have been kept busy to this day watching Israel and Russia in the news. The rise and fall of a mood of crisis, especially when Americans fear Russia as a threat, has played a crucial role since 1917 in creating a receptive mood in American for premillennialism.
As Wilson ably shows, premillennial literature “is strewn with a mass of erroneous speculations which have undermined their credibility” (p, 216). Every crisis in history has been identified in some way as a part of the prophetic timetable. The various chapters of the book document identifications made in such categories as are shown on the chart which we have arranged for summary purposes.
Identifications On The, False Prophetic Timetable
|Supposed Prophecy||Identity in History|
|Sign of the End||Russo-Japanese War, World War I, World War II, Palestine War, Suez Crises, June War, and Yom Kippur War|
|Revival of the Roman Empire||Mussolini’s Empire, League of Nations, United Nations, European Defense Community, Common Market, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)|
|The Antichrist||Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, and Henry Kissinger|
|Northern Confederation Formed By||Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Rapallo Treaty, Nazi-Soviet Pact, and the Soviet Bloc|
|“Kings of the East”||Turks, Lost Tribes of Israel, Japan, India and China|
|The “Latter Rain”||1897, 1917, and 1948|
|End of the “Times of the Gentiles”||1895, 1917, 1948, and 1967|
Wilson points Out the vital (though unconscious) role of national self-interest in premillennial theories. For instance, aggression and other violations of international law against Israel bring meager protest because, it is said, this is all part of the prophetic timetable anyway. Who is man to object to God’s action? But Israel is no threat to American interests. Of course, the existence of Israel as a state is essential to the supposed prophetic timetable, so American premillennialists have supported the state of Israel and favored American aid to it, especially military aid. Russia is considered a threat to America.
If Russian aggression had been consistently treated with the same determinism as Israel was, the Iron Curtain would have been hailed as a wonderful sign of the end . . . . In general, premillenarians called for resistance to ever hint of Russian expansion, demanding conformity to international law and justice, rather than consenting to prophetic considerations (p. 217).
The credibility of premillennialism is also shaken by their opportunistic exploitation of “every conceivably possible prophetic fulfillment for the sake of their prime objective: evangelism” (p. 218). Apparently, evangelistic goals are worth the risk of repeated false identifications. The end justifies the means.
Armageddon Now! is available in paperback from the Guardian of Truth Bookstore for $4.95 and is well worth the price. This book is a valuable tool to anyone studying the premillennial position.
Guardian of Truth XXVI: 2, pp. 28-29
January 14, 1982