What really is new in the fulfillment of biblical prophecy today?
Forty years ago I wrote: "The world today faces an international crisis unparalleled in all the history of man. A tremendous revolution is under way in the international scene, in science, in economics, in morals, in theology, and in the religious structure of the church. The world is aflame with the raw passions of men ambitious for power and desperate to be freed from poverty and frustration. An ominous cloud hangs over the hearts of men and nations. The nations are indeed at the crossroads, and impending events cast their shadow on every aspect of human life. The world is moving faster and faster like a colossal machine out of control whose very power and momentum inevitably will plunge it into ultimate disaster" (The Nations in Prophecy, p. 13).
When these words were written in 1967, the world was indeed in crisis. This led many to attempt to find specific fulfillment of biblical prophecies. Some of these claims for fulfillment were discredited, like the story that construction materials for a new temple in Jerusalem were already being made, which was a complete fiction. Many individuals have tried to determine the date of the Lord's return. Such attempts to find details in prophecy being fulfilled today often discredit and distract the student of prophecy from the real issues that exist.
In answering the question concerning what is new in prophecy, one needs perspective. What has happened in the last one hundred years? What is true today that was not true a generation ago? The answers to these questions quickly focus on the main trends of prophecy which are tremendously significant for students of the Scriptures. Most important is the continued relentless advance in these major trends.
Seventy years ago Hitler was on the rise to power, which ultimately led to World War II. Mussolini was hailed by some as the Antichrist, and the revived Roman Empire was said to be around the corner. The hopes of Hitler and Mussolini were soon dashed into the dust and both perished. In the process, however, the stage was set for the great prophetic developments which have characterized the years which followed.
Three Contemporary Movements of Prophetic Significance
In Bible prophecy, three great movements may be observed in our generation. First, there is the movement of fulfilled prophecy in regard to the nations of the world as a whole. Second, there is prophecy concerning the church. Third, there is prophecy concerning Israel. These major areas have been dramatized by the formation of the United Nations in 1946, the organization of the World Church in 1948, and the recognition of Israel as a nation in 1948. In all of these major areas of prophecy, there has been continued development in our generation with many indications that the end may be near.
Out of the dust of World War II came the United Nations in 1946, the first reasonably successful attempt to organize an international government. While not in itself a fulfillment of prophecy, it is paving the way for the predicted world government of the end time. In our generation for the first time, many intellectual leaders feel that a world government is the only answer to the great international problems which face the world.
Along with the development of the world government has come the rise of Russia in the aftermath of World War II. One of the unfulfilled prophecies of the Bible concerns a war between Russia and the Middle East focusing on Israel as indicated in Ezekiel 38-39. For the first time in history, this has become an imminent possibility in our generation.
Scripture also speaks of great armies coming from the East to engage in a final world conflict. These prophecies, as in Daniel 11:44, and Revelation 9:13-16; 16:12 have become a contemporary possibility as the great armies of China threaten the peace of the world, and unrest in the millions of poverty-stricken Asia becomes an ominous portent of coming world conflicts.
More Prophetic Pieces Come Together
The components of a world government, such as rapid transportation, rapid communication, and the power to send missiles quickly anywhere in the world are all tools useful in the hands of a world ruler. These important components, which only recently have been perfected, obviously fit into the web of circumstances which will provide fulfillment in a future world government.
The colossal problems of the world as a whole, such as atomic warfare, worldwide pollution, population explosion with attendant starvation, and almost a universal breakdown in morals and law and order, are all fateful omens of a crisis that may not be far away. The world is ready for the prophecies to be fulfilled that relate to the end times. These are not small items open to question, but large movements and trends that anyone can observe which fit into the prophetic picture of the climax of world history culminating in the second coming of Christ.
In the religious aspect of the world, tremendous changes have come since World War II. Just as the United Nations formed in 1946 was the forerunner of a future world government, so the World Church organized in 1948 is the portent of world religion to come.
Although the present progress toward a world church seems to be slow, it is obvious that when the rapture of the church occurs, whatever is left of the organized church in the world will soon move in the direction of a world religion. This is indicated in the symbolic picture of Revelation 17 with the harlot representing organized religion and the scarlet-colored beast representing the political power of that day which is aligned with the religious power to gain control of the world.
Most significant is the rise of Communism alongside the world church movement. Although separate and conflicting ideologies at the present time, the future will witness the combined force of these two movements. While Communism will lose its political aspect [Editor's note: Dr. Walvoord wrote this article twelve years before the fall of the Berlin Wall!], its role as champion of atheism will spark the final world religion. According to Scripture, the final form of religion will be atheism and the worship of the world ruler. This will succeed the world church movement which is destined to be destroyed. The twin forces of the World Church and the religious aspect of Communism provide the background for ultimate fulfillment of prophecy concerning final world religion which will be destroyed in the judgments of the second coming of Christ.
Israel: A Prophetic Miracle
What is true of the world as a whole and of the organized church is likewise true of prophecy relating to Israel. One of the most important aspects of prophetic fulfillment is the continued role of Israel in the world scene. Formed as a nation in 1948, the same year as the World Church, and surviving successive wars which only added to her power and territory, Israel today occupies the number one trouble spot of the world. No small nation in the history of man has ever provided more front-page news than the nation of Israel in the last thirty years. All of this has tremendous prophetic significance because in all the prophecies of the end time Israel is seen in the land. Christ addressed Israel in the land as in great danger at the beginning of the great tribulation, and those in the land are urged to flee to the mountains of Judea (Matt. 24:15-20).
The fact that Israel will be regathered to their land to participate in the final great world struggles is clear in many Old Testament prophecies. Israel in the land will be organized as a political state, a stage in Israel's development which has already been fulfilled. Scriptures also indicate that the second phase of Israel's restoration will be a peace treaty between Israel and her neighbors. Peace has been the great problem for Israel since 1948 and according to Scripture will have its temporary solution when a new leader arises in the Middle East who will take control of the situation politically and attempt to put to rest the conflicts by entering into a treaty with Israel, as prophesied in Daniel 9:27.
The return of Israel to the land has not fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies, for still ahead is Israel's hour of trial which Jeremiah 30:7 has declared to be the time of Jacob's trouble, which Daniel and Christ both refer to as the great tribulation (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21). This time of trouble is the third phase of Israel's restoration.
Israel ultimately will be rescued from her time of trouble by the second coming of Christ. Then Israel will be regathered from all over the world and brought back to the land that God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This final and fourth stage of Israel's restoration will be fulfilled when Christ returns to deliver Israel from her enemies and to inaugurate His millennial kingdom of righteousness and peace on earth. What we see today is the first in Israel's four stages of complete restoration, her political restoration. To follow will be her peace treaty period, then her time of trouble, and finally her deliverance from her enemies by the second coming of Christ.
What's New in Prophecy?
It is obvious that many of the developments in prophecy during the last ten years have been an extension and development of the movement in prophecy that has characterized the twentieth century. Some new elements, however, have come to pass. In 1967 Israel recovered the ancient city of Jerusalem. According to the implications of Daniel 9:27; 12:11; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:4; and Revelation 13:15, there will some day be a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. It was absolutely necessary for Israel to recover their ancient city in order to build this future temple. When this will occur is not yet clear, but Israel's recovery of Jerusalem was the first step.
The conflict of Israel in the war of 1973 also indicated a new advance in the problem of Israel and the Arab world. It became very clear in 1973 that future wars will be even larger and more threatening to world peace and more likely to precipitate the situation described in prophecy for the end time. Most of the world is now agreed that there must be a peace treaty in Israel, and while this is not a new concept, it is more emphatic and more pointed today than ever before. As the years advance, the pressures for such a peace treaty become greater on both Israel and Israel's enemies and constitute new evidence that the great prophecies of the end of the age may soon be fulfilled.
One of the most dramatic events which took place in 1973 was the oil embargo which shook the entire world. Suddenly it became evident that the Middle East holds the key to world peace and economic development. Never before in the history of the world since the time of Rome has this been true. With the power of oil and the money that it generates, it also is clear that the Middle East has the power to rule the world and support a world ruler. What was before 1973 an enigma, that is, how could an area like the Middle East ever dominate the world, now becomes quite evident. The development of the power of oil in the political scene to support a world ruler is a dramatic new development in the progress of prophecy during the last ten years.
Many secular analysts of the world situation indicate that the oil situation alone will bring the world to its knees during the next ten years. Never before, since the time of Christ, has there been such a time factor that seems to point to an early conclusion of the prophecies related to the end of the age. While most of us hesitate to set dates, there has never been more evidence in support of the concept that we are nearing the end.
Hope for Christian Believers
For the Christian believing in the imminent rapture of the church, all of these developments have great significance. Many believe that the rapture of the church must occur before the Middle East ruler who will make the prophesied peace treaty will emerge. As the forces that are now in tension in the Middle East cannot go on indefinitely unresolved, so also the hope of the Lord's return for His church cannot go indefinitely unfilled. While the Scriptures do not justify the extravagant date-setting of some who want to go beyond what the Scriptures reveal, present trends in prophetic fulfillment point to the conclusion that Christians never had more reasons to believe that the coming of Christ could occur any day than they have in the present prophetic crisis in the world.
One of these days something dramatically new will occur. The rapture will take place. Before the church the scene of heaven will unfold. On earth, the tremendous events of the end time will be fulfilled. Then will come the second coming of Christ, His millennial kingdom, and ultimately the new heaven and the new earth. Truly these are tremendous days for anyone believing in biblical prophecy and days in which the blessed hope of Christ's return shines brighter than ever before in the history of the church.