GRAVEL-VOICED EVANGELISTS are shouting that our civilization has now come upon the edges of winter. Indeed, since 1967 when the Arab-Israeli war caught us without antifreeze in our prophetic pick-up trucks we've shivered in the icy rut of apprehension. But to a comfortable church living in the Christmas Eve atmosphere of Laodicea the newspaper serves only as a convenient starter for the evening fire. In a warm stupor, "Mama in her kerchief and I in my cap Settle our brains for a long winter's nap."
But it is time for the inhabitants of the land of lethargy to wake up, for something more than a fat little man in a red suit is coming to our snow-covered rooftops. We can hear the distant sleigh bells growing louder and louder. Right upon us is the tremendous, blanketing fallout of Satan's snowstorm of deception.
A text that seems to have double application, both for the centuries following the writing of the Holy Scriptures, when the church was developing false and blasphemous teachings, and for the time just preceding the second coming of Jesus, is 2 Thessalonians 2:7-11:
"For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie."
I don't think it does injustice to the text to put it this way. "They received not the love of deep, wide awake Bible study, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall allow them to be deceived by their senses, that they should believe a lie."
In recent months I've heard with almost daily frequency the fundamentalist pastors of the world preaching with power worthy of their pious ancestors the doctrine of the secret rapture of the church. The first I knew about it was when Billy Graham incorporated it in his book World Aflame. But events in the Middle East have lent urgency to their prophetic calls. Now you hear it everywhere.
To their way of thinking, every text dealing with the ancient Jewish nation is made to apply to every prophecy dealing with the return of our Lord. Together they are packaged into a delusive concept that can be summarized this way: The nations of the world are to converge on the Middle East. But before the great battle of Armageddon, God intervenes to save His church. In a secret, silent second, Jesus slips back into history and raptures His people. They, along with a host of resurrected saints are supposed to be taken to heaven. There they are to dwell for seven years. During this wicked week of prophecy, evil is to be all-inclusive. Antichrist (the man of sin) becomes a world dictator.
According to this interpretation, a time of tribulation is to occur during this seven-year reign of antichrist. Literal Armageddon is to be the culmination of that time of trouble.
Then Jesus comes back. He sets up His kingdom in Jerusalem. Satan is sent down into the demon's dungeon for one thousand years. This enables our planet to become "Disney World" in reality. There is now no temptation, only increasing happiness. Each boy is Tom Sawyer, surrounded by a white-washed fence of innocence. Each girl becomes Alice, in a wonderland of happiness.
The Jew rejoices the most, for his people receive a second chance. God rescinds His rejection of the Jewish nation. The Jews build again. They inherit the territory of the Middle East once promised to Abraham. And on ... and on ... go these illusory dreams.
Weave into this prophetic scheme the mixed-up interpretations of Daniel's time prophecies with their applications projected in future fulfillment and you have a deceptive teaching that is making quite an impact among many Christians today.
When I hear these theories propounded I wonder what their significance is to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Of course, they directly contradict our beliefs. But that is not the most important consideration. At first I thought the whole thing was just a subtle diversion dreamed up to get away from the Protestant dilemma of explaining how there could be a resurrection if those who die in Christ go straight "to be with the Lord." But there's more significance to it than that. Actually, it becomes the final fox chase of the world!
In an article about the Ozark mountains in the November, 1970, National Geographic magazine, the author describes a typical mountain man's night with the hounds.
"The Ozarker doesn't ride to hounds in a scarlet coat; he dons overalls and rides out in his pickup truck, hounds penned in back. Obligingly, . . . 'a good running red fox' leads the dogs in a circle perhaps two miles around. The hunter need only place himself in the center to hear the chase all night. . . .
"A dozen hound dogs . . . went snuffing off into the darkness, sending back an occasional yelp. The men waited, listening, speaking in low voices. Half a mile away, the pack comes on a scent. Now the din grew. 'There it goes! There it goes!' Mr. Riley shouts exuberantly. 'Now boys, you're gonna hear a race. They'll be fairly hammerin' that fox pretty soon.' "*
And in the cold, starlit night, the dogs go running the circle. But in those expeditions occasionally a smarter-than-average red fox comes upon a splashing creek. Then after leading the drooling hounds for several circuits when he comes to the water again he shoots off up the creek bed, leaving the hounds to wind themselves a couple of more times around the country following a colder and colder trail.
This is a vivid description of what Satan is doing. He keeps the mind from that which is most important. He keeps us from the central, ultimate fact of life—preparation NOW! God doesn't intend that we should sit back and watch a carefully detailed set of events occur, such as the idea that when Russia and Red China move into such and such an alignment then we'll know that it is time to prepare. The time is NOW!
Certainly there are likely to be wars and blood shed, but the great climactic end is not man made. This earth is reserved for the final judgments of God (see 2 Peter 3:7). The battle of Armageddon is a battle of the kings of earth against the King of kings and not primarily a battle between the nations of earth. It is a contest between good and evil. God is arrayed against the rebellious and fallen Satan and all those who march under his banner, whether by choice or through willful ignorance.
Many are predicting with excited glee their understanding of step-by-step prophetic fulfillment. But they are actually running in circles and setting themselves up for Satan's deceptions. In Revelation 16:13 John tells us that he saw three unclean spirits (spiritualism, Catholicism, apostate Protestantism) taking advantage of the gifts of the great deceiver as a way of proving that God's spirit really hasn't departed from them. Remember, that's what was predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. Miracles are used to deceive an already gullible world into believing that they are on the path to glory. The tragedy of tragedies is that these events happen as the last hours of probation have fallen upon the world like silent snowflakes. Armageddon comes with the sixth plague. Probation closes be fore the plagues are poured out! If we wait until then it will be too late to do anything about it. The miracles performed by these three unclean spirits gather people to the great battle between good and evil, the last event in the struggle between Christ and Satan (see Rev. 16:14).
For a while God patiently puts up with this world even in the winter of its deepest sin. Probation can be likened to a snowplow. Frozen rebellion blocks it. Drifts of indifference challenge the operator— God. Persecution barricades the path with fallen intentions. But soon it is all over! Last appeals cease, mercy comes to a reluctant stop. The four winds are no longer held in check by the angels (see chap. 7:1). They blow icy sheets of over powering deception that close forever the highways to human hearts.
"Then Jesus will step out from between the Father and man, and God will keep silence no longer, but pour out His wrath on those who have rejected His truth. I saw that the anger of the nations, the wrath of God, and the time to judge the dead were separate and distinct, one following the other, also that Michael had not stood up, and that the time of trouble, such as never was, had not yet commenced. The nations are now getting angry, but when our High Priest has finished His work in the sanctuary, He will stand up, put on the garments of vengeance, and then the seven last plagues will be poured out."— Early Writings, p. 36.
It would be sweet to be able to teach that all Christians are to be taxied to Paradise in the silver sleigh of salvation, but, if we did, the jingle bells would be tinkling a false tune. It would be nice to say that the church would have to pay no price for their allegiance to truth, but it would be a lie. A time of trouble precipitated by the release of wickedness is to be unleashed by the demons of Satan. This will drive man to seek salvation in a last desperate reaching out for a unifying force. That force will be found in "religion." And the credentials of that religion will not be Bible truths, but instead the miracles and deceptions of the antichrist.
No one will be secretly caught away from this icy age of indifference. God's people will be preserved and sheltered from deception only as they meet the chill with Bible-inspired discipline and integrity. How will God spot His isolated people, marooned in the drifts of a swirling storm of persecution and deceit? By Christ's footprints. God's people have lifted their eyes from the tired trail of untruth. They have not followed a circumferential path of meaningless prophecy. Across the stubble of a snow-swept cornfield they have obediently followed in the steps of Jesus.
They are awake. They know and are concerned. They seek to save others. They pray, and plead. They not only preach but live lives that testify that they practice what they preach.
And then He comes! Skies are ablaze with the incandescence of His glory! Hearts and hands reach out! Nothing silent! Nothing secret! A world collapses, but as it does, His people rise "to meet the Lord in the air." And suddenly faith becomes reality. Toes that once tingled in the cold of a hostile world step out of the ridicule and rejection into the eternal warmth of His love—"and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17).
* From Mike W. Edwards, "Through Ozark Hills and Hollows," National Geographic, November, 1970, pp. 672, 673. Used by permission.