- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

The bloody conflict in the Middle East is again turning some evangelicals to the Bible for texts that speak of a final cosmic battle in those ancient lands.
Some scholars and religious leaders warn against being too literal.
As with the founding of Israel in 1948, the Six Day War in 1967, and the Persian Gulf war of 1991, the ongoing violence between Israel and Palestinians is making some Christians think of a biblical-scale showdown.
"I see Israel as the only nation on Earth with a title deed to any real estate," said Hal Lindsey, who popularized the study of Bible prophecy in his 1970 book, "The Late Great Planet Earth."
He said that at this time he is focusing on larger biblical themes rather than details, such as terrorist attacks on America or Israel's seizure of Yasser Arafat's political headquarters.
"In Jeremiah, God declared a promise to the people of Israel, and He keeps His promise," Mr. Lindsey said. "We're seeing a contest now between God's promise and the rest of the world, which says Israel can't exist."
Capital Bible Seminary President Homer Heater, an Old Testament scholar, said Bible prophecy demands a sympathy to Israel but that Christians must also defend the rights of Arab Christians and justice.
"I'm trying to persuade Christians to not just carte blance support Israel," Mr. Heater said. "The Christian Embassy in Israel, for example, says Israel can do nothing wrong."
Mr. Heater had been a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, widely known for its "premillennial" view of the Bible. In that belief, the 1,000 years cited in the book of Revelation is the millennium-long reign of Christ in Jerusalem before the final judgment.
"We do believe there is a future conflagration in the Middle East," Mr. Heater said. "But is this it? I don't know."
He recalls how Iraq's 1991 invasion of Kuwait made evangelical media eager for exciting commentary, which he tried to discourage. "Everyone was so hot on the thing," he said. "And I said, 'This is not it.'"
Images of an end time in the Middle East stretch from the Hebrew books of Jeremiah, Zechariah and Daniel to the New Testament's gospel of Matthew and the book of Revelation.
The more apocalyptic interpretations see the return of Jews to Israel, the rise of an anti-Christ, a new world government and a final battle of Armageddon as key features in God's plan.
During the Gulf war, some evangelicals said Saddam Hussein was the anti-Christ and likened the smoke of burning oil wells to Matthew's allusion to how "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light."
Also in Matthew, Jesus said that before His return, "Ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars."
Though all Christian traditions adhere to the Bible, mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics take such prophecies and Israel symbolically.
Mainline Protestants also have historic missions in Arab Palestine and side with their cause, while Rome has Arab districts and sees Jerusalem as an international city.
In contrast, evangelicals such as Pat Robertson back Israel, and the Rev. John Hagee, a San Antonio pastor, built an international ministry on interpreting Middle East events.
His end-time evidence includes Jewish control of Jerusalem and world television so everyone may see the final events. Others point to the new European Union as the united empire the Bible predicts.
In recent weeks, some Christians have evoked Zechariah's prophecy that God will "make Jerusalem a burdensome stone" so "all the people in the earth gathered together against it."
Erin Zimmerman, a columnist for the Christian Broadcasting Network, recently visited Israel with evangelicals and was "surprised by the lack of detailed, 'date-setting' type of end-times speculation that was popular during the Gulf war."
She said those who make contact with suffering Israelis and Palestinians "are mostly concerned with their safety," not prophecy, and turn to Bible texts to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" as the Psalms state.
"They're becoming more aware that there's a human side to Armageddon," Miss Zimmerman said. "For many Christians, I think the prophetic viewpoint is being tempered by a new level of compassion where the Middle East is concerned."
During the Gulf war, 40 percent of Americans told pollsters the world is likely to end in the battle of Armaggedon, and as 2000 approached, 20 percent said the world will end in their lifetimes.
Mr. Lindsey's Web site, which receives 8 million hits a month, began a poll on interpreting the new Mideast violence, so far garnering an "unscientific sample" of 4,000 votes.
Most 72.5 percent agreed with the statement, "I believe we actually are seeing the start of the war that leads to antichrist and Armageddon." Most of the rest said: "I believe it is coming, but this isn't it."

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