Sonia Nettnin: Uses & Abuses of Biblical Prophecy
Uses and Abuses of Biblical Prophecy
By Sonia Nettnin
Professor Barbara R. Rossing addressed the uses and abuses of Biblical prophecy for the advancement of geopolitical agendas in the Middle East, with a focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Rossing is an associate professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. At the Chicago Sabeel Conference, she answered these questions: “How does the Bible apply to current political realities? How do we remain faithful to the meaning of texts as we apply them to contemporary events, and how do we recognize when we are manipulating scriptural sources to promote a political agenda?”
Rossing’s lecture was an overview of her most recent book, “The Rapture Exposed The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation.” Rossing chronicles some of the people and the industries that have hijacked these scriptural sources for political power, geopolitical violence, financial gain, and the promotion of fear.
“They use the book of Revelation for their own ends,” she said. “I want to claim it back to the mainstream in hopes to bring hope and healing to the Middle East.”
Mainline Christians left the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation to the fundamentalists for interpretation. As a result, Revelation theology became the dominant, Christian interpretation - a prophetic, apocalyptic interpretation - that fuels a lucrative prophecy industry. The industry manipulates American Christians into believing and supporting U.S. right-wing, political agendas that block the road map to peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.
The Prophecy Industry
How do these political agendas reach the masses?
Through T.V., radio, movies, and fiction novels, the prophecy industry has influenced 30 – 40 million Americans into believing and promoting Christian Fundamentalist Zionist policies in the Middle East. “Christian end-times movies have been marketed as thrillers. ‘A Thief in the Night,’ from 1972, is described as ‘the most popular end-times movie ever produced, with over 300,000,000 viewers,’” per Rossing’s book.
During her lecture, Rossing mentioned “Left Behind,” a series of twelve novels about prophetic theology written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. One of their novels, “From the Glorious Appearing,” sold more than 60 million copies. Part of the title comes from a phrase used in the New Testaments’ Titus 2:13. There is a movie version of “Left Behind,” that was released in 2000.
In her book, Rossing explains what happens in these movies: “In every depiction the Rapture divides families. Terrified parents on airplanes scream, ‘My babies, my babies,’ as the camera cuts to teddy bears and diapers left behind on the seats. All children under age twelve disappear. Babies are sucked out of pregnant women’s wombs as stupefied fathers watch the ultrasound machines go blank. Planes and cars crash in fireballs.”
With regards to daily media, Rossing explained that the Christian Broadcast Network, the Trinity Broadcast Network, much of Christian radio, and the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem propagate the prophecy scripts that persuade the majority of Christian-Americans’ beliefs on Biblical prophecy. Although American listeners have various degrees of adherence to these prophetic, militant perspectives that end in Israel and Armageddon, the end message conveyed by the Christian Fundamentalist Zionists who preach Biblical understanding of prophesy on these programs is: “This is what the Bible says.”
“We need to simply call it heresy,” Rossing said. “It’s a terrible heresy we need to speak out against.” This “Biblical system” intimidates people into thinking this is prophecy and many Jews critique this theology. “We (Christians) need to join them,” she added.
The Insertion of “Rapture” into the Bible
According to Rossing, contrary to Christian Fundamentalist claims, there is no rapture in the Bible. In 1830, a British evangelical preacher, John Nelson Darby invented rapture.
In her book Rossing explains: “Christians have always taught that Jesus will return to earth and that believers should live in the urgent and hopeful anticipation of his second coming. This teaching is central to ancient Christian creeds and is taught by all churches.”
However, Darby added a seven-year twist to this Christian belief. Darby taught that Jesus would hover above the earth and suck people into the air to meet Him. Then Jesus would turn around and go back to heaven for seven years. During those seven years, God would inflict torture, bloodshed, violence, and wars on earth. At the end of the seven years, Jesus would return for the second coming.
“We need to expose and debunk this,” Rossing said. “A two-part return is not Biblical, the one part about the second coming yes, but the other one is a part that has percolated its way into the Christian imagination.”
According to Rossing, even though the word “rapture” is not in the Bible, believers in the word “rapture” say it comes from the Latin “raptio,” which derivates from the Greek word that means “caught up.” These believers reference 1Thessalonians 4:17, which uses the phrase “caught up.” As a result, the extended etymology is the basis for their beliefs in Darby’s rapture.
Another interpretation of this passage is in regards to the word “meet.” The following is Rossing’s deconstruction of the interpretation: “the word for ‘meeting’ in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is from the Greek word ‘apantesis,’ which is used to describe a delegation going out to meet an important dignitary to escort them back. It doesn’t mean going out to meet the dignitary and them leaving with them.”
People asked Darby when Christ would return. In response, as Rossing explains in her book: “Instead, he invented “dispensations” – that is, intervals of time ordering God’s grand timetable for world events. From this expression came ‘dispensationalism,’ a particular system or school of thinking about the end-times reflecting in Darby’s premise.”
In her lecture, Rossing explained that dispensationalists believe when the Jews refused Jesus as the political Messiah, then God called a time-out on the prophetic stopwatch. It has been on hold for 2,000 years. However, it can be reactivated at any time. Dispensationalist believers reference the book of Daniel 9:25 -27 and 9:29-37 as key texts to substantiate their beliefs.
Moreover, what is important to understand about Darby’s seven-year twist is that Christian Fundamentalist Zionists believe a whole sequence of events must happen for Jesus to return. They claim there needs to be the rebirth in the nation of Israel, the takeover of East Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, and then the rapture of an evil, Antichrist. They base these claims on Revelation 6-19.
“This is terrible theology,” Rossing said. “This is not what Biblical prophets are all about.”
According to Rossing’s book, what makes the Darby system even more complicated is a man named Cyrus I. Scofield composed an annotated “Scofield Reference Bible,” which is “…a version of the King James Bible in which he added dispensationalist headings and notes in the margin commenting on each prophetic passage in light of Darby’s system.” As a result, “…it became the version of the Bible through which Americans read their scriptures throughout much of the twentieth century. Scofield’s notes and headings were woven in with the biblical text itself, elevating dispensationalism to a level of biblical authority that no previous writing had.”
Rossing references a conservative, evangelical critic by the name of Gary Demar. In his book, “End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of the Left Behind Theology,” he says the dispensationalist script is unsupported because there is no evidence of it in the Bible.
As Rossing summarizes Demar’s theological findings: “There is no mention of a rebuilt Jerusalem temple anywhere in the New Testament, including Revelation; neither Daniel nor Revelation uses the word Antichrist; there is no record in Revelation or Daniel of the Antichrist making a covenant with Israel; there is no record in Daniel or Revelation of the Antichrist breaking the covenant with Israel; and there is no mention that Jesus will set up an earthly throne in Jerusalem.”
During her lecture, Rossing illustrated how prophetic believers pick and choose excerpts of Biblical scriptures to construct prophetic scripts filled with timetables related to world events. For instance, some dispensationalist believers who read Ezekiel 38 said that Russia was going to attack Israel because this chapter in Hebrew text has the word “rosh,” which means “head.” Dispensationalists claimed “rosh” meant Russia. Rossing’s lecture showed that people manipulate Biblical texts to fit geopolitical events; and sometimes Christian Zionist fundamentalists’ writers will revise editions of their books to match current, political events.
The Fig Tree and the Tree of Life
In Matthew 24-25, a verse about a fig tree has been interpreted by dispensationalists to mean Israel. In her book, Rossing asks: “Where is the founding of the modern state of Israel in the Bible?” Later on she contends, “No passage in the New Testament makes Jesus’ return contingent on the re-establishment of the Jewish state.”
However, many Christian dispensationalists have been propagating the idea that the fig tree stands for Israel, and that the foundation of the modern state of Israel will bring Jesus’ return.
It is the dispensationalists’ interpretations of the Bible that have caused the Palestinians egregious pain and suffering. Israeli settlers and their Christian Fundamentalist Zionist supporters stand resolved that they will force a series of dispensationalist, prophetic events for Jesus’ return and the Apocalypse. While they have been acting upon their dispensationalist beliefs Palestinians have been subjected to their violence for over 57 years. The military occupation of the West Bank is Israel’s claim to reunite Judea and Samaria with the State of Israel. Although most Jews disagree with the Christian Fundamentalist Zionists’ interpretations of the New Testament, they willingly accept their political power and financial support for the continued occupation and expansion of Palestinian land.
Despite the dreary outlook, Rossing believes the tree of life, found in the Old Testament’s Ezekiel 47:9-12 is a message of hope and healing -- not only for the wound of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but the rest of the world.
“The vision of the healing tree of life in Jerusalem that has a gate for all people sacred to people of all three faiths,” Rossing said. “God’s tree of life whose leaves bring healing is a vision and promise of a new Jerusalem to welcome all people.” In her book she adds: “The tree of life is also an important image in Islamic Tradition.”
Instead of following dispensationalists like blind sheep, Rossing advocates people use their “Lamb Power,” which she explained is in Revelation and means “…the power of nonviolent forgiving love to transform the world.”
If people are in disagreement with Rossing’s contentions, then they can read her book. It has extensive details about the subjects aforementioned, along with endnotes containing the theologians, writers and journalists she cited during her research. Rossing’s lecture and lucid writings demonstrate a window of opportunity exists to change the fundamentalist narrative of human self-destruction.
In the end, people are living their prophetic and geopolitical beliefs at the expense of an indigenous people. After decades of flagrant disregard for their human rights, the Palestinians need a viable, contiguous state within the 1967 borders. When the world shows active support for the state of Palestine, Israel and Palestine will live alongside one another in peace.
Palestinian life needs peace, justice and freedom.