Pastor Greg Laurie of California's Harvest megachurch told the congregation in a special message series on future events that as "foreshocks" of Armageddon are being witnessed, the Rapture of the Church could be the next event on the prophetic calendar.
In the world we are witnessing what can be seen as "foreshocks" of Armageddon, according to Matthew 24, Laurie said in his message last Sunday, part of a series called, "Antichrist, America, and Armageddon."
"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains," verses 6-8 say.
The Islamic State, or ISIS, terror group is creating chaos in the Middle East and elsewhere, and they only continue to grow, Laurie said, adding, "They're barbaric; they set people on fire, they crucify people…"
"Iran is even a bigger problem" as its nuclear ability directly threatens Israel and the U.S. Russia is also becoming aggressive. China is also growing, seizing territory in Southeast Asia, he added.
Pastor Laurie said some atomic scientists have prepared a doomsday clock, highlighting the possibility of a potential nuclear war. "It is three minutes to midnight," they say. "Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth."
Laurie said, "The world is ripe right now for a charismatic leader, for a man of peace … He's the antichrist, also called the man of sin … the beast … the wicked one… If Satan ever had a son, it would be like him, the antichrist."
There are more than 100 passages of scripture describing the origin, nationality, character, career, kingdom and final doom of the antichrist, the pastor told the congregation, adding that many prophecies of the Bible have already come true and the others will come true as well.
"In my opinion, the next event on this prophetic calendar is the Rapture of the Church," Laurie said, explaining, "That's when all true believers are caught up to meet the Lord, in a moment, in the twinkling of the eye."
The pastor said he doesn't think the Tribulation period can begin until the Church is first removed. Similarly, the antichrist cannot come either until the Church is first removed.
He quoted Revelation 3:10, "Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth."
All hell can break loose when Christians are removed from the world, as they're the ones who are daring to protect the unborn child and maintain the sanctity of marriage, Laurie said, quoting 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8: "For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming."
The Great Tribulation is a period of time still to come when God's wrath will be poured out, he said. After the Rapture, the antichrist will emerge and the Tribulation will begin, he stressed.
The prefix "anti" in antichrist does not only mean "against," but also "in stead of," Laurie explained. He will be the "imitation messiah" of Jesus.
The antichrist will come in an economically difficult time, and when there will be wars in different parts of the world, the megachurch pastor continued. He will greatly improve the economic system and bring about global "peace;" he will also rebuild the Jewish Temple, Laurie added. "As the Bible says, with peace he will deceive many."
"The Tribulation does not start violently, but peacefully," Laurie stated. It will become violent when the antichrist begins to show his true colors. Half way through the Tribulation, he will erect an image for all people to worship.
One of the signs of the end times will be a great apostasy or falling away, as the Bible says, Laurie said, quoting Matthew 24:12: "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold."
Now, where America might be in the last-days story? America is not mentioned in the Bible prophecy, Laurie said. There are three possibilities why this is so, he said.
One, the United States is decimated in a nuclear attack, he said. North Korea and Iran have nuclear weapon, and ISIS is also trying to procure it, he added.
Two, we simply decline as a world power, Laurie said. Every nation's days are numbered. "In fact, we are on that trajectory right now," he warned.
Three, a great revival takes place. "Spiritual awakening is a sovereign work of God where people start coming to faith in Jesus Christ," Laurie said.
As Pastor Laurie ended the message, he cautioned, "We should not be looking for antichrist, but Jesus Christ," and explained, "To look for Him means we live with eager anticipation of His return."
In the meantime, "look up and live right," he said.