Wars and the noises of wars.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 August

Mk 13.7, Mt 24.6, Lk 21.9.

I grew up during the Cold War. As a result I grew up with Darbyists like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, who were absolutely convinced the United States’ disagreements with the Soviets and Chinese were somehow gonna escalate into the great tribulation. Lindsey in particular offered a lot of scenarios about how it might happen—which he had to update every few years as the international situation changed. Basically you take what everybody’s already anxious about—nuclear war—and tell ’em all their worst fears will come true, whip ’em into a panic, and use it to sell vitamin supplements… whoops, sorry, wrong conspiracy theorist. He sold books. Millions and millions of books. It made Lindsey a wealthy man.

Thing is, once the Cold War ended, Darbyists had to find a new boogeyman. Some of them never gave up on their polemics against the Soviets (now the Russians), and insisted Boris Yeltsin or Vladimir Putin had to trigger the End Times somehow. The current Russia-Ukraine war has borne them an awful lot of scaremongering fruit. Other Darbyists pointed to China, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, or any other nation which they personally didn’t like, and dug up out-of-context bible verses which helped ’em connect the dots and “prove” their theories. I’ve lost count of all the crackpots I’ve heard through the years.

Every time the United States got involved in war since, Darbyists and Darbyist-adjacent “prophecy scholars” insisted this was it. This was the war which’d lead to the tribulation, the rapture, the tribulation, the Beast, Armageddon, and the second coming. Thus far they’re batting .000, but just you wait: Next time we get tangled up in a war, they’re gonna claim that’s the war which triggers the End.

This behavior has been going on long before my time. Dwight Wilson, in his 1991 book Armageddon Now! The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917, can give you a rundown of all the End Times-triggering world events since Darbyism got popular in the United States in the late 1800s.

The current crisis was always identified as a sign of the end, whether it was the Russo-Japanese War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Palestine War, the Suez Crisis, the June War, or the Yom Kippur War. The revival of the Roman Empire has been identified variously as Mussolini’s empire, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the European Defense Community, the Common Market, and NATO. Speculation on the Antichrist has included Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, and Henry Kissinger. The northern confederation was supposedly formed by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Rapallo Treaty, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and then the Soviet Bloc. The “kings of the east” have been variously the Turks, the lost tribes of Israel, Japan, India, and China. The supposed restoration of Israel has confused the problem of whether the Jews are to be restored before or after the coming of the Messiah. The restoration of the latter rain has been pinpointed to have begun in 1897, 1917, and 1948. The end of the “times of the Gentiles” has been placed in 1895, 1917, 1948, and 1967. “Gog” has been an impending threat since the Crimean War, both under the Czars and the Communists. Wilson 216.

Evangelicals just can not stop themselves from “discerning the news,” and trying to find the threads which lead to the End. Sometimes ’cause they wish Jesus would return as soon as possible (and I wish that too; maranatha!)… and others, believe it or don’t, because they don’t wish Jesus would return. They’re happy with things as they are. They’ll fight tooth and nail to delay his coming, delay any tribulation, delay delay delay—till their lives are in a good place, and they’re ready. Whenever that is.

Every little chaotic event makes ’em speculate the End is near, and of course nothing grabs their attention quite like war. Which is why Jesus, right after he warned his students of false Messiahs, warned ’em of war.

The apostles would see and hear war.

Too many End Times prognosticators would have us believe a great tribulation is in our future. I agree any sort of tribulation is possible, but the great tribulation Jesus speaks of in the Olivet Discourse is not in our future, but his students’ future: It’s the Roman-Jewish War of the year 70, in which Judea, Jerusalem, and the temple were destroyed.

If you actually read the Prophets in the bible, and don’t just read what “prophecy scholars” claim they wrote and meant, you’ll notice just about all their prophecies would come to pass soon. You wouldn’t wait around years for it; it’d happen within weeks. (It’s because prophecies have to be confirmed, and how on earth are you gonna confirm a prophecy when it won’t happen for centuries?) The person who heard the prophecy was always meant to personally witness it happen.

But here, Jesus is telling his kids about an event which wouldn’t happen for another 37 years. That’s a particularly long time for them to wait to see it! Ordinarily you’d expect a prophecy like this to get fulfilled this very year, like everything else Jesus foretold. So you can see why Jesus would have to instruct ’em to be patient: They’d have to sit through a few disasters in the meanwhile. Recessions. Earthquakes. Wars.

Wars plural; the word in our bibles is πολέμους/polémus, “wars.” More than one would happen inbetween this prophecy and the Jewish War. Jesus’s first apostles would personally experience multiple situations where people were fighting one another. Understandably, they might think, “Oh here’s where the Romans finally lose their cool, and things escalate, and they destroy Jerusalem.” But nope; this wasn’t gonna happen for more than three decades.

The KJV adds the word “of” to turn Jesus’s statement into “when ye shall hear of wars,” as if the students might get news about other wars in other parts of the world. I didn’t translate it that way because the grammar doesn’t work like that. Polémus is a direct object: “Y’all might hear wars” or “Y’all are about to hear wars.” Likewise the KJV’s “rumours of war,” which again sounds like they’re hearing about other wars—but in 16th century English, “rumour” meant noise, not gossip. Might be gossipy noise, but still: It means they’d personally hear, if not personally see, a nearby battle.

Mark 13.7 KWL
“When any of you hear wars
and the noises of wars,
don’t panic. It happens.
But it’s not the end yet.”
Matthew 24.6 KWL
“You’re all about to hear wars
and the noises of wars.
Look, don’t panic, for it happens.
But it’s not the end yet.”
Luke 21.9 KWL
“When any of you hear wars
and instability,
don’t panic, for these things happen first.
But the end isn’t at hand.”

By “the end,” Jesus doesn’t mean the End; just the end of the temple. Yes, the students likely presumed it was all the same thing, same as Christians still do. But nope; they wanted to know when the temple would be destroyed, so that’s what Jesus told ’em.

Are there wars which’ll precede Jesus’s second coming? Of course there are; every single war since Jesus’s first coming has preceded it! Did any of those wars mean the End has come? Nope. Will any of the next several wars mean the End has come? Nah. There are no more wars which must take place before Jesus returns. No End Times prophecy has to be fulfilled before the Son of Man appears in the clouds. Nothing’s stopping him.

So why hasn’t he returned? Because he’s trying to save everybody first.

2 Peter 3.9 KJV
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

He’ll come once he thinks the world is ready. Meanwhile keep following him.

Don’t you freak out over war.

Back in the 1990s, before they moved to the internet, I used to get Christianbook’s mail-order catalog. And for the longest time they were trying their darnedest to sell all their extra copies of Darbyist prognosticator John F. Walvoord’s Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis: What the Bible Says About the Future of the Middle East and the End of Western Civilization. They had marked it down to 75 cents; they were offering full cases of books for $10; anything to get all their copies out of the warehouse.

Walvoord had written the book in 1976, right after the OPEC crisis (when Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing middle eastern countries had decided to stop selling to the United States, as protest of our support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War). Walvoord speculated the great tribulation wouldn’t be started by the Soviets nor the United States; it’d be some Arab country. Anyway, when the U.S. and our allies went to war with Iraq in the first Persian Gulf War in 1990, Walvoord dusted off his 14-year-old book, updated it slightly, and published it again, taking advantage of its new “relevance.”

But the war only lasted 6 months, and anybody who bet on sales of his book—like Christianbook—discovered they bet wrong. The following decade of relative peace meant conservative American Evangelicals ignored Walvoord’s theory; George H.W. Bush’s idea of a “new world order” felt like way more of a threat to them. Darbyists who pandered to that fear, like Tim LaHaye with his Left Behind series, sold way more books.

Then the Afghanistan War and Iraq War began… and Walvoord’s book started selling again. For a bit; he didn’t update it again for the new crisis, so it remains out of date. Other Darbyists wrote books about the middle east. But those wars are finally over (for now), and once again Darbyists are preoccupied with Russia (for now). And if any other country becomes a big enough boogyman, they’ll rejigger the scriptures they use to support their cockamamie theories, and claim it was that country all along.

Because that’s what they do. Wars trigger panic in people. The noises of wars, whether it’s war news or the explosions we can hear coming this way, make us realize it’s the end for us—it’s the end of our world; and maybe it’s the end of the world. Maybe we’re all gonna die.

The threat of nuclear war during the Cold War absolutely felt that way. And the various threats Russia has made against NATO dredge up those old fears all over again. What else would this be, if not the prophesied end of the world?

But in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus isn’t talking about the end of the world. He’s talking about the end of Judea. The destruction of a country, and scattering of a people, and it wouldn’t just be for 70 years like the Babylonian Exile: The State of Israel wouldn’t be established till 1948. That’s nearly 19 centuries of exile. No wonder Darbyists went absolutely bonkers when Israel came to reexist: Now the End was actually near! But that was 73 years ago, so no it wasn’t.

Because they’re wrong. They’ve spent the last 170 years creating and proclaiming near-future End Times timelines, and none of those timelines have ever come to pass. Not one. Ever. They don’t know what they’re doing, and those who follow them, whose fears keep getting exploited by them, don’t actually know what they’re doing either. Every new war makes ’em flinch. Because they’re paying attention to the Darbyists instead of Jesus, who told us, “When any of you hear wars and the noises of wars, don’t panic. It happens. But it’s not the end yet.”

Do we really trust the words of Jesus? Or must we continue to prefer these fools?