After World War II, premillennialism reached an eschatological frenzy. Atomic weapons with incomprehensible destructive power and delivery systems left no place safe from the threat of thermonuclear annihilation. Israel was established as a Jewish state and successfully defended its territory during the ensuing decades.

Furthermore, the United States and the Soviet Union entered a Cold War; in evangelical circles, this was portrayed not as a geopolitical conflict but as an ideological struggle —capitalism versus communism, democracy versus dictatorship, freedom versus slavery. And such themes pervaded the prophetic and apocalyptic literature that rolled off the evangelical presses in the 1960s through the 1980s.

Scores of sensationalist prophetic teachers issued these volumes, but none was better known than Hal Lindsey.

Suicide and Second Coming

Born in Houston, Texas, in 1929, Harold L. Lindsey dropped out of the University of Houston to serve in the Korean War, then worked as a Mississippi River tugboat captain. When his first marriage broke up, he contemplated suicide, but instead found a Gideon New Testament and was converted. Lindsey became an avid reader of Scripture, particularly prophetic sections, which convinced him that the Bible was truly the Word of God.

Though not a college graduate, he entered Dallas Theological Seminary in 1958 (with the help of "Colonel" Robert Thieme, pastor of Berachah Church in Houston, where Lindsey had attended), and graduated with a degree in theology. He also met his second wife, Jan, and they became missionaries for Campus Crusade for Christ, lecturing to college students throughout North America.

In the late 1960s, Lindsey began gathering his lecture notes into a book that would make his name a household word around the world: The Late Great Planet Earth. It quickly became one of the best-selling nonfiction books of the 1970s, and was translated into more than 50 languages with sales of over 35 million copies. Lindsey even made a film version of the book, narrated by Orson Welles.

Generation is the key

The Late Great Planet Earth and its 12 sequels deal specifically with the "signs of the times" that make up the prophetic "jigsaw puzzle" of end-time events: the creation of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948, the recovery of Jerusalem in 1967, the rise of Russia, an Arab confederation arrayed against Israel, military power in East Asia, European integration, revival of dark occult practices in Babylon, the apostasy of Christian churches, the move toward a one-world religion and government, and the decline of the United States as a world power.

Lindsey prophesied the Antichrist will head up a revived Roman Empire comprised of the European community, the Jewish Temple will be rebuilt, an Arab-African confederacy will assault Palestine followed by the even larger invasion of the region by Russia. Then the European alliance, after having defeated the Russians, will be attacked by an army of 200 million Asians. In this Armageddon battle, a nuclear exchange will kill a third of the world's population. But just as the battle reaches its peak, Christ will suddenly appear, halting the hostilities and protecting believers from total destruction.

The critical point in this scenario is Lindsey's concept of the "generation" of Matthew 24 ("this generation shall not pass away until all these take place"). He defined a biblical generation as 40 years, and concluded that "all these things" could take place within 40 years of the founding of Israel. Thus he predicted the return of Christ in 1988 and the rapture of the church seven years earlier.

By 1997 Lindsey had changed his prediction of Christ's return, but he still portrayed the writer of Revelation as "an eyewitness to events of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries." Lindsey continues to argue that John was shown the future and then brought back to the first century to write an eyewitness account of this terrifying future time. He was to do this in "encoded symbols," and now the time has come for these prophecies to be "un coded." That requires "a Christian guided by the Spirit of God" to be able to interpret them.

The rise of the Illuminati

The decline and fall of communism presented Lindsey and his fellow premillennialists, such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, with a monumental problem. Almost without exception they had identified Russia with Gog and Magog, and especially the "Rosh" mentioned in Ezekiel 38. The collapse of the Soviet Union led them to perceive a new conspiracy: the "New World Order."

Pat Robertson, for example, argued that men of goodwill like Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush unknowingly and unwittingly carried out the mission "of a tightly knit cabal whose goal is nothing less than a new order for the human race under the domination of Lucifer and his followers."

Robertson begins with the small secret society known as the Illuminati, founded in 1776, and shows how these money barons incited the world wars and the Cold War to funnel money from taxpayers to themselves. The United States was pushed into an international confederacy that is in reality a cover for the rise to power of the Antichrist.

The fascination with end times predictions seems to have escalated as the second millennium closes. Two examples: Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, in his book 1994? predicted the world would end in September of that year; and Grant R. Jeffrey, author of Armageddon: Appointment with Destiny, suggests the year 2000 as "the probable termination date for the 'last days' ".

Robert Clouse is professor of history at Indiana State University. This article is adapted from his upcoming book The New Millennium Manual: A Once and Future Guide, which he authored with historian Richard Pierard and editor Robert Hosack. (Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 1999.) Used by permission.
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