RAPTURED, PART I:
DARBYISM AND THE MIDDLE EAST
For millennia, Christians have believed that the end times are near. Armageddon and the second coming of Jesus, precluded
by the rise of the Antichrist and the seven years of tribulation, which—thanks to the rapture the Bible talks about—true
believers will impassively watch from a box seat in heaven.
Right? Not quite.
In fact, you would have to look long and hard to find the word ‘rapture’ in the Bible… it’s simply
not there. Nor is any clear description or explanation of the rapture. Which is probably due to the fact that the whole concept
was invented by a renegade Irish Anglican priest with strange ideas and strong convictions, less than 200 years ago.
A man whose beliefs, one could argue, are largely responsible for the current state of affairs in the Middle East.
John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) was the founder of premillennial dispensationalism, as his version of Christian eschatology
is called. Through extensive missionary travels across Europe and North America, “Darby converted a generation of evangelical
clergy and laity to his views,” writes Donald Wagner, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at North Park
University in Chicago, in a 1998 article in The Christian Century.
Dispensationalism teaches that there are seven ways or “dispensations,” (we could also call them ‘eras’)
in which the creator deals with humans. Right now, we’re supposedly in the sixth dispensation, Grace, which will be
followed by the Millennial Kingdom, a 1000-year-long reign of peace. The transition will be a time of great tribulation, culminating
in the final battle between good and evil at—you guessed it—Armageddon, a valley northwest of Jerusalem. Some,
however, won’t have to go through this messy period, according to Darby. They will be removed from the planet through
the rapture; basically, God’s “Get out of jail free” card for the faithful.
The history of the rapture can’t be told without elaborating on Israel’s part in it. “An early version of
Christian eschatology… held that Jesus would return and establish his millennial kingdom after the world had been evangelized,”
explains Donald Wagner. “However, by the 18th century another model of eschatology emerged in England that emphasized
the role of a reconstituted Israel in the end times.”
Surprisingly, Christian Zionism preceded Jewish Zionism by several years. One of the pioneers of this movement was Sir Henry
Finch, an influential lawyer and member of British parliament who, in 1621, wrote a treatise trying to convince the British
government and the people to promote Jewish settlement in Palestine in order to fulfill biblical prophecy.
Even though the idea wasn’t new, John Darby popularized it by making it a focal point of his teachings… and his
successors put a great deal of effort into making it come true. The most prominent Darby followers were evangelical leader
Dwight L. Moody, the British social reformer Lord Shaftesbury, and in the early 20th century, Lord Arthur Balfour and Prime
Minister David Lloyd George, according to Wagner “the two most powerful men in British foreign policy at the close of
World War I.” Balfour and George were both raised in dispensationalist churches and openly committed to pursuing a Zionist
agenda for “’biblical’ and colonialist reasons.”
In America, William E. Blackstone, an early Darby disciple and author of Jesus Is Coming (1882), “organized the first
Zionist lobbying effort in the U.S. in 1891 when he enlisted J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Charles B. Scribner and other
financiers to underwrite a massive newspaper campaign requesting President Benjamin Harrison to support the establishment
of a Jewish state in Palestine.”
Fast forward to 1999. Historically, the dawn of a new century, or even more so, a new millennium, has always stirred fears
in boobus sapiens of the sky falling on his head. Of course, the year 1999 was no exception, with doomsday scenarios to everyone’s
taste: Y2K for non-Christians, the Great Tribulation for believers. With one difference: While the Y2K threat was generally
dreaded, many Christians—certain to be saved by the rapture—have been looking forward to the end times, which
are supposed to be heralded by the rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple on the famous Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Considering that, right now, that space is occupied by the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, two of the most sacred
Islamic sites, it becomes clear that this conviction spells disaster.
Some Christians of the more zealous kind have been trying to speed up the construction of Solomon’s Temple—and
thus pave the way for Christ’s second coming—by helping the demolition works along a bit. One major attempt was
made in 1969, when an Australian tourist set fire to the Al-Aqsa mosque, the holiest shrine of Islam. His action stirred up
Muslim riots whose ripple effects were felt as far away as India.
Needless to say, should one of those radicals succeed one day, it would mark the beginning of “a holy war of incalculable
consequences,” as one website put it. In other words, Armageddon on a silver platter.
In 1999, on the threshold of the new millennium, more than 60 fundamentalist Christians were rounded up and expelled from
Israel by court order, most of them Americans. In January of ‘99, 14 members of the Denver-based Concerned Christians
were arrested in a Jerusalem suburb and deported because “authorities had feared the group might attempt mass suicide
or even a suicide shootout with police on the Temple Mount,” reported the Washington Times. And in October of the same
year, Israeli police ejected 21 Christians who had settled around the Mount of Olives in anticipation of the return of Christ,
suspecting them of planning to disturb the public peace. Police spokesman Rafi Yaffe said: “Everyone of them believes
he will be given a certain role at the end of days.” One of the deportees, however, blamed the group’s arrest
on the devil who “doesn’t like us preaching the name of Jesus in Israel.”
Critics could argue that just the opposite might be true. In fact, the Darbyist belief system plays neatly into the political
agenda of Jewish extremists who prefer taking back their land by militant means to working out a peaceful compromise between
Israel and Palestine.
In February of this year, for example, Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to begin withdrawal from the Gaza
strip and four West Bank settlements. Settlers opposing the disengagement policy have started to rally radical right-wing
Jews and Christian Zionists for support. “Thousands of Jews—and Christians, too—are waiting in the U.S.
for the call to join the struggle of the settlers in Gaza,” commented the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz—a move
that is expected to get into full swing in July.
We’re five years into the new millennium and nothing happened—reason for dispensationalists to lay low? Not at
all, as you’ll see in Part 2 of our rapture article next week. In the contrary, the apocalypse sells better than ever.