The tendency of the media to connect any major Middle East event to biblical prophecy has itself become predictable. Since the first bombs began falling in Baghdad, journalists working the end-of-the-world beat have been calling evangelicals for comment.
"War in Babylon has evangelicals seeing Earth's final days," says the San Francisco Chronicle. "Direst of predictions for war in Iraq," a Washington Post headline reads. Even Connecticut's Norwich Bulletin says, "Are these the last days? Some Christians say so."
Do many evangelicals really see end times indicators in this second U.S. invasion of Iraq?
To find out, Christianity Today assistant online editor Todd Hertz interviewed two representatives of disspensationalism, a movement known for speculating about end-times prophecy: Dr. Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, and Todd Strandberg, the founder of the online Rapture Index.
In 1995 Strandberg founded the online Rapture Index, a Dow Jones-type measuring tool of biblical prophecy. He and 12 employees now run fourteen end-times sites, including RaptureReady.com and RaptureMe.com. The combined sites attract more than 250,000 visitors each month. He also cowrote a book due this summer titled Are You Rapture Ready? (E.P. Dutton).
The Rapture Index monitors 45 categories of various indicators prophesized in the Bible. The categories are ranked one to five based on whether they are rising or falling and include: earthquakes, mark of the beast technology, and date setting. A higher cumulative number indicates the world is moving faster toward the end times, Strandberg says.
As of this week, the index is at 174. According to the site, anything over 145 means "Fasten your seat belts." Yet the current index is still lower than the all-time high of 182 following September 11, 2001.
Are there many evangelicals connecting biblical prophecy with this war with Iraq?
I am not seeing that much. There was a big surge in my site traffic when Bush made the 48-hour ultimatum. From there, everything leveled off. We were doing about 7,000 visitors a day, and it bumped up to 10,000 when Bush gave the 48-hour notification. As the fighting began, the hits have been rather tame.
I think people are anticipating a rerun of 1991. When we went in that time, we were anticipating a major loss of life and we lost very few. Some envisioned it as a major event in prophecy. So now, most of us think that this won't be a major event either.
The Bible predicts that things get so bad in the end times that if Christ doesn't come back, there will be no flesh saved. It will obviously get much worse than this before the end. We [prophecy] watchers tend to be pessimistic about the future. If the Bible says things are going to get bad, we feel we are just being realistic.
Why is the index already higher now (174) than it was in Desert Storm (163)?
There are only a few things that relate to the war itself. It can only affect economic factors and global turmoil. The peace process in Israel, drought, famine, and earthquakes are not affected by this war.
The current war has thus far had limited economic impact. The stock market rallied last week during the first attack, whereas in 1991 it went down big time until the ground war broke out. Economically this doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary.
Then why is the Rapture Index so high right now?
Several categories have reached the point where they cannot go higher. The categories such as ecumenicalism and globalism are at their full state of development. In addition, the "Beast government" category, which pertains to Europe's revival of the Roman Empire, is as high as it can go.
When the EU started, it was a fanciful idea of a trading block. Then it progressed to an actual community, and now it is almost like the United States of Europe. Where can it go from here other than having a president? At that point, that's where the Antichrist comes in. He could be the first president. The Bible says he is elected by ten kings of that revived Roman Empire.
If you look at some of our previous indicators, we were down as low as 57 in 1993. Since then, we have not been lower than 158 in 2000. I believe it will stay at this level. I don't think Europe will disband. I don't think the now commonplace ability to create mark of the beast technology will uninvent itself. We won't get low again. There's too many indicators that are irreversible.
But what does it mean that it is so high? Are we closer to the end times?
The Rapture itself is an unknown event, so it doesn't matter how high the index gets. The Rapture could happen when it is at 120. Instead, the index is more of a speedometer than it is an indicator. This is just how fast we are getting there. I view it as a ship getting close to an iceberg in a fog. It doesn't matter how fast you are going when you hit it, but this is a way to be aware that it is approaching.
Where does the index tell us we are right now?
We are entering in the time of "think not." If you compare the reactions after 9/11 to the ones after Pearl Harbor, there's a big difference. The reaction in 1941 was very profound on society. 9/11, on the other hand, has lost a lot of its impact.
Recently North Korea talked about nuking America, and they're getting the capability to actually attack us, but yet we have no reaction whatsoever. Maybe we've become desensitized to these events. The Bible says more time than any, the end times, will be denoted by a time that you think not. That is probably one of the most significant indicators of the end times, and we may be seeing the start of it. [According to the index], we are certainly in a state of flux, where we've broken out of a period of stability and are heading on a progression.
How did the Rapture Index begin?
It started with my observations of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It has been a perfect indicator of how our economy is going since its inception in the 1800s. I thought we could apply this to the end times.
Really, it is a way to standardize observation of the end times rather than just guessing. Sometimes I think, "Man, a lot of those things predicted in the Bible are really happening." But once I factor together all the various components, I see that the total occurrences are actually dropping.
It is natural to see one event, like the beginning of a war, and focus on it. But it may not be the trend if the other 44 categories are dropping. The index was a way to add a scientific approach to this. I wanted a standardized way of looking at all these different indicators. I defined 45 categories and rank them one to five based simply on whether they are increasing or decreasing.
The movement is based on whether they are rising or declining. Rather than assessing importance, we look at occurrences. Obviously, some indicators are more important than others. "Mark of the beast" would be more important than "wild weather." But I found when we made some of them worth more points, there was no real difference. The index worked well without giving them an added value.
Why did you want to do the index?
This index is just a small part of the RaptureReady site. I created it for people not familiar with prophecy. The other pages in our sites give more detail. The index gives an overview of the end times because prophecy can be very difficult to understand.
Our main goal is to be ready for the Rapture itself. We are seeing traffic of more than 250,000 people a month now. I believe that when the Rapture takes place, there is going to be a horrendous surge of people looking for what happened. The hits are going to be in the millions. Everything I have done for the past 14 years has been for nothing compared to what will happen after the Rapture.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Earlier Christianity Today articles about prophecy include:
Newspapers Miss the Real End-Times Story | Plus: Not all pastors preached about Iraq on Sunday, and other stories from online sources from around the world. (March 25, 2003)
Was September 11 the Beginning of the End? | Observers say geography and gravity of attacks have led to little prophecy speculation. (September 19, 2001)
The Rapture: What Would Jesus Do? | An end-times pilgrim counts the cost of discipleship. (Feb. 6, 2001)
Scholars Dispute Fatima Prophecy | Many question whether attempted assassination of Pope fulfilled prophecy. (Aug. 11, 2000)
What Hal Lindsey Taught Me About the Second Coming | At UCLA, amid war protests and police helicopters, teachings on an imminent end made a lot of sense. (Oct. 25, 1999)
Apocalypse Now | Worried about the future? Revelation says more about church life today than about how the world will end. (Oct. 25, 1999)
Stop the Dating Game | Don't do what Jesus said can't be done. (Oct. 25, 1999)
Reflections: End Times Edition (Oct. 25, 1999)
Is Revelation Prophecy or History? | Some events described in Revelation occurred contemporaneously with the prophecies themselves. (Oct. 25, 1999)
Inside CT: Obsessed with the End Times (Oct. 5, 1998)
How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend | The amazing story of Christian efforts to create and sustain the modern nation of Israel. (Oct. 5, 1998)
The Bible Study at the End of the World | Recent novels by evangelical leaders say more about popular American Christianity than about the end times. (Sept. 1, 1997)
Issue 61 of Christianity Today sister publication Christian History examined how Christians have perceived prophecies about end of the world.
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