The second Sunday after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I preached a sermon entitled “The Road To Armageddon.” During those days of grief and rage when I should have preached the gospel of peace and forgiveness, I instead resorted to the hackneyed trope of dispensationalism that claims a mega-war in the Middle East must occur before Jesus can return.
I’ve repented and made amends for that pastoral failure, but the fact remains that my mistake was made possible by the terrible eschatology I had inherited. The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series are only the best known of countless books that have popularized the worst possible reading of Revelation.
The phenomenon of modern dispensationalism with its endorsement of supposed divine and unavoidable hyper-violence is such an ugly and perverse eschatology that it’s unfit to be called Christian. A Christian eschatology of peace and hope has been supplanted by a dreadful eschatology of violence and doom. An eschatology that insists there must be more wars, more famines, more earthquakes, and more epidemics before Jesus can return is not a Christian eschatology. The Apostle Paul calls the glorious appearing of Christ the “blessed hope,” but there’s nothing blessed about another war or global catastrophe.
Yet hoping for “wars and rumors of wars” is the predicament the adherents of dispensational eschatology find themselves in. According to their system (based in an utterly mistaken reading of the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation), Jesus cannot return until a series of global catastrophes culminating in World War III occurs first. This leads to the deplorable phenomenon of Christians secretly (or not so secretly) hoping for another war and finding a reason to rejoice over the latest catastrophe. An earthquake kills 100,000 people in China and somewhere in America a Christian smiles and says, “Praise the Lord. It’s a sign of the end times. Jesus is coming soon!” An eschatology that rejoices over earthquakes and causes people to want another war in the Middle East is not a Christian eschatology! Christian hope is for the peace of New Jerusalem, not the horrors of Armageddon.