A respected megachurch pastor addressed the confusion over end times prophecies in his new book by differentiating what the Bible clearly says about topics such as the rapture, the Antichrist, and the millennium rule of Jesus, and what is left to speculation.
Dr. Jim Dixon, senior pastor of the 10,000-member Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo., wrote Last Things Revealed with the aim to help Christians better understand the Bible's core teachings about the last days, overcome their fears of the end times, grow in their faith, and share the love of God with others in the time they have left on Earth. The book is based on Dixon's eight-part sermon series called "The Last Things." Bestselling author and apologist Lee Strobel, who is a member of Cherry Hills Community Church, wrote the foreword to the book.
"I think it is important for every generation to study eschatology, to study the events that are prophesized," said Dixon, a respected scholar who helped found the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination in the 1980s, to The Christian Post on Thursday. "I am not saying that we are the last generation. [But] I think that 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, or certainly in my grandchildren's lifetime.
"I am not trying to set the day or the hour. I'm just saying I think there are many signs that we are in the season of his return."
Agreed Upon End Times Signs
While scholars disagree on many details about the end times, Dixon said there are signs that most agree upon. Most scholars agree that the Bible clearly says that in the last days there will be apostasy, or false ideas and lives within the Christian community.
Dixon separates apostasy into two forms: doctrinal apostasy, regarding what believers' think and believe, and moral apostasy, what followers of Jesus do. He cited 2 Timothy 4:3-4, where Paul says, "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (TNIV).
"I think we are seeing apostasy in our time in an unprecedented way. I think we are seeing more church leaders leaving orthodoxy," said Dixon. "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, questioning the meaning of the crucifixion, denying substitutionary atonement. We see Christians questioning the reality of hell and the eternal judgment."
Another key sign is natural calamity, Dixon said. He pointed to the "amazing" numbers of earthquakes, including the ones in Chile, New Zealand, and most recently Japan, as examples.
The Denver-area pastor noted, "A 9.0 earthquake is seismologically apocalyptic. The largest one ever recorded was in Chile in 1960 and it was 9.5."
Other end times signs include pestilence and famine. Scientists are now creating genetically-engineered pestilence and there are about 2 billion people who make $1-2 a day and are starving. There are also the signs of moral erosion of Judeo-Christian values in the world and the rebirth of the nation of Israel in 1948 and the return of the Jewish people to their homeland.
"All these things are certainly signs of the time. I think there are many indicators that the return of Christ could be relatively soon," remarked Dixon.
Details of the End Times Up for Debate
Many details about the more popular topics regarding the end times, such as the Antichrist, the rapture, and the millennium rule of Jesus are more speculative, according to the Fuller graduate. Although scholars and pastors give definitive answers sometimes about these prophecies, the Bible is unclear about the exact details and it is not necessary to be in agreement, Dixon asserted.
Regarding the Antichrist, what is clear is that that he will be against Christ, try to take Jesus' place as the king of kings, try to gain power of the entire world (2 Thessalonians 2:1:10), and be consumed by hatred (Revelation 12).
What is unclear is if the Antichrist is a single person or another kind of entity.
"Sometimes the Antichrist is called 'he' and sometimes 'it' or 'they,'" pointed out Dixon in the book. "The Antichrist, however, is never 'she,' so women are off the hook."
He noted that some scholars argue that the Antichrist can be both "he" and "it." In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, Paul called the Antichrist the "man of lawlessness." But the pronoun "it" could mean the spirit of the Antichrist that the Bible says is already at work in the world, said Dixon in the book.
Notably, many people have tried to decode the number of the Antichrist or the beast, 666, as recorded in Revelation 13. Some believed that Roman Emperor Nero – who murdered his parents, pregnant wife, and Christians by setting them on fire as human torches at night – was the Antichrist. The letters of the Greek name "Neron Caesar" when translated into Hebrew added up to 666.
And Protestant movement leaders Martin Luther and John Calvin believed the Antichrist would be a corrupt pope. The words "Italian church" in Greek add up to 666. But then the Catholic leaders said they found ways to make "Martin Luther" add up to the number 666. People have also found ways to make the math add up to 666 for historical figures Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Bill Gates, Dixon pointed out in the book.
"Playing with numbers doesn't really help us unravel mysteries about the Antichrist," he wrote. "It only muddies the water."
Regarding the rapture, the Colorado pastor said that what the Bible is clear about is that it will happen (1 Thessalonians 4 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1). The rapture is the process when believers are "caught up" or received by Christ when he returns.
The controversy about the rapture is regarding when it happens. Scholars disagree if the rapture will occur before, during, or after the tribulation. Pre-tribulationists believe Christ will bring about the rapture or remove his followers before the tribulation so they will not have to endure divine wrath in the last days. Mid-tribulationists believe that the rapture will take place in the middle of the tribulation, and post-tribulationists say the rapture will take place at the end of the tribulation and Christians will need to endure all the disasters along with unbelievers.
"I don't believe the Bible is clear on this issue," Dixon wrote. "Each view has biblical passages that appear to support it. For thirty-five years, I've studied these things, and I can defend all three positions. But in my view, none summarizes all of the passages."
The popular apocalyptic fiction Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins takes a pre-tribulationist view of the rapture.
Another highly controversial area about the end times is regarding the millennium rule of Jesus on Earth (Revelation 20:1-10). The Bible says that when Jesus Christ returns, he will rule the world for 1,000 years. What scholars disagree upon is the timing of the millennium, a time where Jesus will bring justice and peace to the world.
The pre-millennialists believe that Jesus will return to reign for a thousand years before the last judgment based on a literal interpretation of Revelation 19-21. The post-millennialists say Jesus won't return until after the millennial. Post-millennialists believe that instead of Jesus reigning for a thousand years, the church will reign and bring justice and peace to the world.
And lastly, there is the A-millennialist view, which defines the word thousand to be symbolic of completion or wholeness. According to this view, we are already living in the millennial with Jesus reigning spiritually over the church, not the world. The millennium, according to A-Millennialists, began on the day of Pentecost (when the church was founded, as recorded in the book of Acts) and concludes with the second coming (when the church will join with Jesus Christ in the New Jerusalem).
Most evangelicals, including Dixon, are pre-millennialists.
"A lot of Christians pick up Left Behind and they read the books and they think that this is a summation of what the Bible teaches," said Dixon during the CP interview. "And really, often times it is simply representing one possible perspective amongst many perspectives in the Christian world."
To people who fear the end times, Dixon said the only way to overcome that anxiety is for them to give their lives to Christ.
"Christ is our savior, he is our lord, and we overcome fear by finding the peace that he alone can bring and it is the peace of salvation," said Dixon.