(Photo: Cherry Hills Community Church)
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, members of the Denver-area Cherry Hills Community Church wanted to know what the Bible had to say about the end of the world. Through talking with his congregation, Senior Pastor Jim Dixon made the shocking discovery that he never preached about this topic.
He then set out to study the Bible and scholarly writings about the issue and shared what he learned in an eight-part sermon series called "The Last Things." Dixon's new book, Last Things Revealed, is based on his end times sermon series.
The Christian Post spoke with Dixon, who is a respected scholar in addition to pastoring a 10,000-member church, this week about what the Bible is clear on regarding the end times and what is left up to debate.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
CP: Your book is surprisingly assuring and peaceful considering you are talking about the end times. How can people overcome their fears about the end times and all the disasters that will occur?
Dixon: I think the only way to overcome your fear is to give your life to Christ. I certainly want that message to be clear. Christ is our savior and he is our lord and we overcome fear by finding the peace that he alone can bring and that is the peace of salvation.
CP: Many people are coming out and saying we are in the end times. Is that the most important questions to ask when there are disasters or is there something more essential to ask?
Dixon: I'm not sure it is the most important question. I'm not actually saying we are in the end times. I'm saying I believe it is likely that we are in the end times. I think it is important for every generation to study eschatology, to study the events that are prophesized. I think Christ wants his people to be aware of the time and season of his coming. I think he wants us to be excited to live in the hope of his promises. So you know, I'm not saying we are the last generation. I think I would be surprised if Christ doesn't come back soon. By that I mean perhaps in my lifetime, perhaps in my children's lifetime, and certainly in my grandchildren's lifetime. But of course we don't know the day or the hour. And I'm not trying to set the day or the hour, but I'm just saying there are many signs that we are in the season of his return.
CP: What are the signs of the end times that most scholars agree upon?
Dixon: Well apostasy would be number one. It says in 2 Thessalonians 2 concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ that day will not come unless the apostasy first. The Greek word is apostasia. And so I think we are seeing apostasy in our times in an unprecedented way. We are seeing more church leaders leaving orthodoxy. And of course it says in I Timothy 4 and in 2 Timothy 4 that in the last days people will depart from the faith and they will give heed to deceitful spirit and doctrine of demons the pretention of liars whose consciences are seared. It says that the days are coming when people will no longer endure sound teaching or sound doctrine but have itching ears they will accumulate teachers to suit their own liking and they will turn away from listening to the truth.
So I think we are seeing that in our time. I think that is the key sign. I think we see mainline denominations leaving the historic Christian faith. We see Christians questioning the deity of Christ and the meaning of the crucifixion and denying substitutionary atonement. We see Christians questioning the reality of hell and the eternal judgment. I think we are seeing a lot of apostasy.
In addition to apostasy, I think we are seeing unprecedented calamity, some of them consequences of our own action on the earth. We polluted land, water, and air. But also along the so-called Ring of Fire, which is the horseshoe shape belt that surrounds the Pacific Rim, we are seeing amazing numbers of earthquakes.
Just recently, we had the one in Chile and one in New Zealand at Christchurch and now of course in Japan and even another one in Japan today, 7.4. All of these are on the Ring of Fire where you have shifting tectonic plates and great volatility. Over 50 percent of the active volcanoes on the earth are on the Ring of Fire and many seismologists believe that a big one is about to hit the West Coast of the United States and perhaps the region of California.
But we don't know those things and there have always been earthquakes and there have always been volcanic eruptions, but it does seem as though these are particularly violent.
A 9.0 earthquake is seismologically apocalyptic. The largest one ever recorded was in Chile in 1960 and it was 9.5. Calamity would be another indicator of the return of Christ.
Along with pestilence and famine and of course we have about 2 billion people on the earth right now that make $1-2 a day and many are near starvation. We not only have pestilence but we have genetically engineered pestilence. These are kind of scary times.
I think moral erosion would be another sign of the return of Christ. The erosion of Judeo-Christian values. And certainly we are seeing a lot of moral erosion. People I think are catering to the culture and no longer affirming biblical values, biblical morality.
Another indication would have to do with Israel. The Bible certainly prophesizes the scattering of Jews over the earth and the return of the Jews to their homeland in the end times and then a reborn Israel, which results in the polarization of nations. I think that is what is happening in our time. In 1948, they (Israel) were reborn and in 1967 they occupied Jerusalem. So all these things are certainly signs of the time. I think there are many indicators that the return of Christ could be relatively soon.
CP: Why did you highlight in your book that God not only blessed Isaac but also Ishmael in the chapter about Israel and Islam?
Dixon: Well God loves everybody. I think one of my problems with certain segments of the Christian world is that it seems like there are some Christians that have a lot of hate in their heart for other people and I think God loves people. God loves all people and God so love the world that He sent His son and gave His son.
Certainly, God loves Jews and God loves Muslims, God loves Arabs. So the descendants of Ishmael have been promised blessings. Certainly, the Arab people have been blessed and there are about 300 million Arabs in the world. And the Arab League has more than 20 nations which are constitutionally Islamic. But I would say the Arab world has a vast geographic land space, some of it's desert, some of it's fertile, but some of it has oil reserves. There is a lot of ways that we can say that God has blessed the Arab people as He has promised. He promised to bless Isaac and Ishmael. But of course Isaac is the one whom the messiah would come and he is the one where the old and new covenants are given.
CP: Could you explain how everything ties in, how you began that chapter talking about the Armageddon between Israel and Islam and then at the end you talk about how Christians should befriend Muslims? How does this all tie together?
Dixon: I believe that that conflict and the hostility that exists between Arabs and Jews will ultimately lead the world to the brink. I believe that there is such deep seated hatred in the hearts of Jews and Arabs for each other that it will drive the world to Armageddon. And I think a lot of what is described in Ezekiel 37, 38, 39 really have to do with the Arab nations coming against Israel and the confirmation of the age.
Having said that, I believe in taking Jesus to both Arabs and Jews. I feel like the call of Christ upon us is to learn to love all people, including Arabs and Jews and to try to befriend them and to show love for them. Not all Muslims or even most Muslims are Arabs. Ninety percent of Arabs are Muslims, but not all Muslims are Arabs. You understand that there are one billon two hundred million Muslims in the world and three hundred million Arabs. But we are to love Muslims and Arabs and Jews alike. We are to love them for Christ's sake and we believe that Jesus is the hope of the world and he is for everybody. And so the way to reach Muslims or Jews for Christ is to love them and to befriend them.
It doesn't do any good to hate them. I don't think that will bear a lot of fruit.
CP: What is the rapture and what can we say definitively about it?
Dixon: We can say definitively that the rapture will take place. That's 1 Thessalonians 4, the lord himself shall descend from heaven with the cry of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise. We who are alive and who are left until his coming shall be caught up with him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
So that word "caught up" is a Greek word rendered by the Latin word rapturo, which we get the word rapture. So rapture is definitely going to happen and Christ is going to take his people home. So we certainly affirm and believe definitively that the rapture will take place.
The controversy is around the timing of the rapture. Will it take place prior to the tribulation or will it take place in the middle of the tribulation or will it take place after the tribulation. So we have pre-, mid-, and post-trib perspectives within the Christian world and within the evangelical Christian world.
I could give you scriptural support for pre-trib rapture, but I can also give you scriptural support for post-trib rapture. So I think there is room for discussion and dialogue on a subject like this. We can understand why Christians are not necessarily in agreement on the subject because I don't think the Bible is that clear as to whether the rapture is pre- or post-trib.
I think that, in my view, there are more Bible passages that would support a post-trib rapture, but I'm hopeful that we are raptured prior to the tribulation. I think we would all love to get out, dodge before the bullets start firing.
You know, it is an area of great controversy though, as all areas of eschatology tend to be, filled with debate.
CP: What is the difference between the rapture and the Second Coming?
Dixon: Well rapture is simply the end gathering of the church. So when Christ comes he will gather his people, he will gather the church. The catching up, the rapturo, the gathering of the church is the rapture. The Second Coming of Christ is global and we have Christ coming to the world and he will judge the nations. He will sit on his glorious throne and before him will be gathered all the nations and he will separate them one from the other as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
So the Second Coming is to judge the nations as global and the rapture is specifically for the church. The question is are they simultaneous or separated by seven years.
CP: I found what you wrote about the 666, the number of the Beast or the Antichrist, very interesting. What should we make of the number 666 and should we take seriously claims that the letters in a person's name or organization add up to that number?
Dixon: You know, again, that's an area, Michelle, of great speculation. Some people believe that the Antichrist, that his name will have a numerical value either in Hebrew or Greek of 666, or perhaps in Aramaic. And that is one possible view. But again, many theologians view 666 as simply evil, evil, evil. That it is basically the number of fallen man and that the Antichrist simply represents the worst of humanity. And certainly the whole concept of the Antichrist is itself broader than many Christians are aware of because the Antichrist is not only an individual who will rise on the stage of history at the end of the world. But it is also a spirit already at work in the world. A diabolic, demonic spirit at work on the earth and it is called the spirit of the Antichrist or lawlessness and it is in the world already. It will continue to work until ultimately the man of lawlessness or the Antichrist himself arises on the earth.
Sometimes though the concept of the Antichrist refers to the alignment of nations that the individual will come to head. So it is a fairly complex subject and we see even in the parsing of the Greek word that the person and gender changes and sometimes its neutered, sometimes it's masculine, sometimes its first-person, second-person, third-person. So Antichrist is he, it is it, it is they and I think it depends on which of these concepts you are looking at.
CP: Again, what is the Bible clear on regarding the Antichrist?
Dixon: That he will indeed arise on the stage of history at the end of times and he will seek power over every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation. He will seek power over the earth. He will have global solutions to the world's problems. He will appear to have great wisdom, great charisma. He will appear as a wonder worker. He will come with all pretended signs and wonders according to 2 Thessalonians 2. He will empowered by Satan. It says in 2 Thessalonians 2 that he will come with the in working of Satan.
So I think we know those things for sure. And we also know that he will ultimately lead in the alignment of nations, often times associated with the revived Roman Empire or at least with the part of the world or geographic land space of the Ancient Roman Empire. Or perhaps the heritage, culture and people of the Ancient Roman Empire will come to head with this segment of the world. He will stand against Christ, stand against the morality of Christ, the doctrine of Christ and he will be deceptive and charismatic. He will bring the world to the brink.
So we know those things are certainly true. But we don't know who he is.
CP: What do people mean when they speak about the millennium?
Dixon: Well again, the millennium is another area of great controversy within the Christian world. You know, I am a Presbyterian pastor. Cherry Hills Community Church, where I pastor, is part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and I had the pleasure of being one of those who helped found the denomination back in St. Louis in 1980. But Presbyterians, by and large, are a-millennial. Most Presbyterians and most Christians from the reformed world are a-millennial, which means that they do not believe that the millennial is a literal thousand years. They take the Greek word chilioi, the word in Greek for one thousand, to mean kind of a number of completion or wholeness.
So most a-millennialists would view the millennium as a complete period of time, a full period of time in which Christ reigns over the Church. So we are in the millennium now according to an a-millennium perspective. We are in the millennium now because the reign of Christ over the Church and it's called chilioi, or a thousand years, simply because it will be a full period of time where Christ will reign over the church. And so we are already in the millennium and the millennium will come to an end when Christ returns and establish the new heaven and earth. That is a-millennialism.
But most Christians, I would say, that are evangelicals are probably pre-millennial. And I lean towards pre-millennialism, not a-millennialism. I tend to be a pre-millennialist and I believe that the millennium is a literal thousand years and the word chilioi is to be taken literally. And I believe that Christ will reign not simply over the church but over the world, the whole world over a thousand years, which I understand the Book of Revelation to say about the millennium. That Christ will reign not simply over the Church but over the world for a thousand years and it will be a time between this age of the world and between the new heavens and new earth. It will be an in between time, a millennium. It will be a time when the earth will bring forth bloom, and nature will be restored and things won't yet be perfect. And at the end of the millennium, Satan will be loosed again and test the work of the millennium and test the earth before the final judgment takes place and the devil is forever casts into the lake of fire.
We have two major but very different views of the millennium. One is pre-millennial and the other a-millennial and you see Christians on both sides. One takes it as a literal thousand years period after this stage in the world and the other takes it as a symbolic period of perfection in which Christ reigns over his church and they would claim we are in it now. These are different views. But I lean towards pre-millennialism.
CP: Could you tell us briefly about the post-millennial view?
Dixon: Post-millennial view is simply the belief that as Christians, the Church of Jesus Christ, we are going to prevail over the nations and we are going to bring the world to perfection simply by the fruit of our labors. So the church of Jesus Christ over the course of its history will ultimately prevail. We will bring the whole world in acknowledgement to Christ and when Christ comes back we will have it all set up for him. We will have already established peace, and the mind and the heart of Christ will prevail over the world because of the work of the Church.
And so post-millennialism ceases to be popular. It was no longer in vogue in the aftermath of the 20th century because of all the world wars. World War I and World War II, Vietnam War, Korean War. More people were killed in the 20th century than in any other prior centuries. Most people realized, wow, the church is not prevailing over the world and things aren't getting better and better and maybe this view never made a whole lot of sense. It didn't make sense biblically. There is really nothing in the Bible that would lead you to post-millennialism. The Bible does not teach that the Church will conquer the world and we are going to have it all set up for Jesus when he comes back. That is just not what the Bible teaches.
CP: You like to reference a lot of movies in your book. Is there any popular movie that you think does a job handling the end times?
Dixon: Oh wow. I have never seen a Hollywood produced movie that did a good job handling the subject of the end times. There might be such a movie but I have just never seen it. Most are apocalyptic movies that are produced by Hollywood that are fun and entertaining but not to be taken seriously theologically. And they certainly don't follow pages of Scripture.
CP: How do you feel about Left Behind? I think that is the book that most Christians know about this subject?
Dixon: Yeah. Well again, it is a pre-trib, pre-millennial perspective. Very popular. I think the books are written in a fun and entertaining way. And I think God very much uses the books because it leads people to Christ. The books lead people to faith in Christ and I rejoice in that. I think it is important to understand, however, that the book represents one of many views within the Christian world. A lot of Christians pick up Left Behind and they read the book and think this is a summation of what the Bible teaches and really it often times is representing one possible perspective amongst many perspectives in the Christian world. It is pre-millennial and pre-trib and some Christians are a-millennial and some are pre-millennial but they are not pre-trib they are post-trib. So in other words it is one perspective amongst many biblical possibilities.