As the war in Israel continues and more of the surrounding Muslim-majority nations indicate they might escalate the situation further, one of the questions we have been asked most frequently at Denison Forum is if the fighting there is a sign of the end times.
It’s an understandable question and, from an eschatological perspective, “wars and rumors of wars” in Israel do feel different than the ongoing struggle in Ukraine or conflicts elsewhere in the world (Matthew 24:6).
But why is that the case? And why do so many Christians in particular seem to jump so quickly to the end times when conflicts in Israel arise?
While answers vary, one of the most prominent factors among evangelical Christians is the belief that the nation of Israel will play a central role in the apocalyptic conflicts that will ultimately result in Christ’s return.
Now, it must be said from the start that not all Christians agree with that assessment. As Dr. Jim Denison describes, there are seven primary approaches that people have taken to understanding the book of Revelation and, by extension, how the end times will play out. And people continue to argue about it because no approach is inarguably more biblical than the rest—though strong adherents to any one of them might disagree.
For our purposes today, however, one approach in particular stands out.
Today’s most popular end-times theology
Of the seven ways that Christians have historically viewed end-times theology, the most popular in evangelical circles today is premillennialism.
While a variety of perspectives are housed within that term, they share the basic belief that the world will never be made right until Christ returns. And a quick look at the news on any given day offers a helpful reminder of why that perspective makes sense to so many.
However, that wasn’t always the case.
In the wake of the Second Great Awakening, many Christians in the West believed that the church was on the path to ushering in the kingdom that Christ would one day return to rule. However, for many believers, the Civil War put cracks in that belief before the first World War ultimately shattered it.
In its wake, more and more Christians began to believe that Jesus was the only one who could fix this world, and the premillennial approach became more common as a result.
In typical Christian fashion, though, even when people agreed on the basics, the details proved divisive. And of the factions within that faction of belief, dispensationalism is the most important for understanding why Israel is so important to many Christians today.
God’s two plans?
Dispensationalism came to America through the writings and sermons of British pastor John Nelson Darby during the late 1800s, but it rose to prominence through the preaching of St. Louis pastor James Brookes and—to an extent—famed evangelist D. L. Moody. Then, in 1909, Cyrus Scofield published one of the first study Bibles and included notes throughout explaining how the various parts of Scripture fit within a dispensationalist model.
A host of Bible colleges, institutes, and seminaries—with Dallas Theological Seminary perhaps the most important—then trained generations of pastors to see Scripture through that lens as well. And while other forms of evangelicalism grew to prominence across the same period of time, some of the most influential leaders within the evangelical church have approached Scripture from the dispensationalist perspective.
I bring all of this up today because one of the most distinctive convictions within dispensationalism is the belief that, as Timothy Weber describes, “God had two completely different plans operating in history: one for an earthly people, Israel, and the other for a heavenly people, the church.”
And that plan would eventually culminate with a reestablished Israel at the center of the Lord’s work as he began to usher in his kingdom. Given that Darby began preaching about that eventuality nearly a century before the nation of Israel was rebirthed in 1949, it’s understandable that the latter event was seen by many to confirm the dispensationalist perspective on Israel’s role in the end times.
As Israel has continued to court evangelical support in the decades since, that relationship has only grown stronger, and a view that found its modern origins within the dispensationalist perspective has been adopted by many who hold to a different approach to the faith as well.
As a result, now when Israel goes to war, Christians pay attention and openly wonder if this conflict will kick off Scripture’s final conflict.
So how can we know?
Will you be ready?
Ultimately, the answer to that question is that we won’t know which conflict is the final conflict until Jesus comes back. We’ve been in the “last times” since Christ’s incarnation. For the better part of two millennia, there have been Christians who were convinced that his return was imminent.
I’m thirty-seven years old and, not to brag, but the latest conflict in Israel is about the fifth end of the world I’ve experienced so far. Yet, whether it’s the other wars in the Middle East, 9/11, Covid, or the host of other global conflicts and persecutions that meet many of the criteria described in Scripture, Christ still hasn’t returned.
But one day he will, and while we can continue to debate the degree to which present events should be seen as a sign of the end times, what Jesus was absolutely clear about is that the best way to live now is to be ready for his return.
So how can we do that?
Think back for a moment to your initial response when you thought about the question of if we are now living in the end times. Did it make you frightened? Excited? Skeptical? Did someone come to mind who doesn’t know Christ? If Christ did return today, would there be something you feel like you’d left unfinished?
Ultimately, Christ’s call is to live every day with the expectation that it might be your last, coupled with the reality that we often won’t know if it is until it’s too late to do much about it.
So what would such a life look like for you today? And is your answer to that question primarily the product of your own guesses and expectations or as a result of guidance from God?
Only the Lord knows when your last day will be, so he is the only one capable of helping you live well every day until that time comes.
Have you asked for his help yet today?
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