Catholics Examine…Millennial Madness


 The Dispensationalist Sensation

January 17, 2008


The term “Christian Zionists” usually calls to mind visions of premillennial dispensationalists like Jerry Falwell, John Hagee — or Hal Lindsey, author of the blockbuster The Late Great Planet Earth.  Back in the 90’s he also hosted a weekly radio show promoting his own version of end-times prophecy.  In this, the Jewish role during these latter days is crucial, more so than the Christian.  Yes, the “Church” is due to disappear any day now.  As the still-Chosen Ones, the modern-day Jews will be left to rebuild the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and reinstate their ancient sacrifice. Following a series of apocalyptic wars, their restored homeland, i.e. the state of Israel, will also be the site of Christ’s Second Coming.  This in turn is going to usher in the Millennium, which Hal, Jerry, and other true believers will miss, having already been lifted up out of the picture into the clouds of heaven.  This so-called “rapture” marks the end of the Church era, leaving a Jewish remnant to run the show.




Catholics, of course, must view this scenario as inane — and insulting to their Faith, which holds that the Church will last forever.  Even though, for their part, the Jews show no sign of converting en masse, much less of attributing to Jesus the role of Messiah, the dispensationalists tend to support them unconditionally.  The ongoing Zionist agenda, replete with messianic overtones, is praised to the skies by Hal’s pals, who continue to blend these with their own vision of the Second Coming.  Rather than have Christ coming in glory to judge the living and the dead, as Catholics believe, this has Him showing up in bodily form, and ruling from a restored Temple in Jerusalem for a thousand years!


Talk about monotonous!


If such beliefs were relatively rare 50 years ago, in recent decades, as though sparked by a millennial madness, they have spread like wildfire.  Back in the 70’s The Late Great Planet Earth outsold other books of the decade, but failed to be included in the New York Times best sellers list.  By the mid-90’s, however, the latest in end-times prophecy had made it into the mainstream.  Some of the books in the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins would eventually top several prestigious best-seller lists, including that of the Times.  And the swelling ranks of fans would include not just those who belonged to denominations identified as “dispensationalists,” but mainline Protestants as well.


Already it has got to the point where some upscale suburbanites are telling their neighbors not to worry if they should look next door one day and see an empty house, for it will simply mean that the family has been raptured.  Really!  A cousin of ours actually heard this from her neighbor — and she, keeping a straight face, replied that, well, the reverse could also occur; that is she and her husband might be the ones to be raptured, while the neighbor’s family was left behind.


Needless to say, the neighbor did not look happy to hear this.


As for the Novus Ordo clergy, their reactions have been — well, wimpy. There is an article, first published in 2003 by the Council of Illinois Bishops, now posted on the internet, that denounces the Left Behind books as “anti-Catholic” in their depiction of both the rapture and the end-times pope, who in the series is allied with Anti-Christ — a view consistent with that of early Protestants.  Another internet article, originally published by the U.S. Bishops’ Department of Education, calls the series “both subtly and overtly anti-Catholic.”  Their feeble protests, however, can scarcely be heard amidst the rousing hosannas of dispensationalists.  I mean, who cares if some stodgy clerics, or the tools thereof, call the Left Behind books “anti-Catholic”?  What exactly does this mean anyway?  The history behind the label is not explained in these articles, and most U.S. Catholics are woefully ignorant of any persecuted past.  Criticizing the airy-fairy “rapture” is one thing.  Daring to focus on the Zionist aspects of the agenda, however, is another.  It would appear that no “bishop” in this country wants to touch such a hot topic.


Their flocks suffer accordingly.  Carl Olson, author of Will Catholics Be Left Behind?, says the pews of evangelical churches are full of former Catholics who have fallen prey to Protestant proselytizers.  The ignorance of many “cradle” Catholics leaves him aghast.  A convert himself, he grew up in evangelical circles tinged with dispensational beliefs.  So he should know.  Now, seeing Catholics caught up in the fervor, he is quick to inform them that the “rapture” is a “theological fiction invented less than two centuries ago.”  His book provides an in-depth analysis of such beliefs, tracing them from 19th century British zealots like John Darby to his counterparts across the Atlantic.  These include Cyrus Scofield, who, despite a “tainted past” (he spent time in jail on forgery charges), managed to “get religion”, and to produce a “reference bible” for dispensationalists that was published by Oxford University Press, no less.


Valuable insights provided by Olson’s book, published in 2003, include contrasting definitions of such all-important theological terms as “Kingdom”, “Covenant”, “Church” and “Israel.”  For Catholics, their Church is the heavenly Kingdom established by Christ on earth –– in a kind of nascent, or, as Olson puts it, “seed” form, to be sure, but still real, visible, and viable.  Through the ages it would continue to grow, to flower, to reach out to all nations.  In contrast, dispensationalists view the “Kingdom” described in the gospels as primarily a political, material entity that is quintessentially Jewish.  Indeed, some Protestant zealots like Scofield go so far as to say the gospels themselves, including the beatitudes, were, and are, intended for Jews, not gentile Christians!  Though most Jews of Christ’s day misunderstood and therefore rejected His exclusive offer of a Kingdom on earth, this did not disappear, or transfer to the gentiles.  Rather it was simply put on hold.  The Church of the Christians is merely parenthetical.  At the end of the era that is about to conclude with the rapture of gentile believers, Jesus will return to rule from the throne of King David over an earthly empire that represents the final triumph of Jewish messianic aspirations.  Yes, His own Chosen race will accept Him the second time around.


They just don’t know it yet!


As Olson notes, according to Catholic doctrine, the “Old Covenant concludes with the New Covenant, and is included in it.  The Church is the New Israel.”  He quotes Justin Martyr, who, in his own Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, wrote, “As, therefore, Christ is the Israel and the Jacob, even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelitic race.”  To dispensationalists, however, such beliefs are anathema.  They constitute what John Hagee calls “replacement theology,” the notion that the New Covenant replaces, or supersedes, the Old.  This, he says in his recent book In Defense of Israel, provides the underpinnings of an anti-Semitism which over the centuries has manifested itself in “atrocities committed in the name of Christianity against the Jewish people”.


Offenders include the hordes of Catholic Crusaders who butchered Jews (and Moslems) in the Holy Land; and the clerical Inquisitors who, besides torturing the Chosen ones in the name of Christ, evicted them from their homes in Spain.  All this horror culminated with Hitler, who Hagee claims remained a self-avowed Catholic even while holding office.  He ignores the fact that der Führer’s pagan proclivities went against the Faith.  Nor does he mention all the Catholics, German, Polish, or otherwise, who suffered under the Nazis; nor the protests of German bishops against Nazi eugenics practices.  Nor the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, condemning their racial policies. Nor Pius XII’s own successes in saving thousands of Jews.  None of this counts with Hagee.


In all his ranting over past sins, he also fails to mention the horrific persecution of eastern European Catholics under Stalin and other Communists; and, going back a ways, by Protestants in Britain and Ireland during the centuries following the Reformation.  Much of the latter targeted the so-called “idolatry” of Catholics that was seen in their “worship of graven images”.  Indeed, Protestants, especially those of a Calvinist bent, considered the traditional Mass as idolatrous, not only because of Catholic belief in the Real Presence, but also because the liturgical act is described as being a continuation of Christ’s own sacrifice.  In contrast, their own, reconstituted version of the Lord’s Supper, denuded of sacrificial aspects, was presented as merely a memorial meal.  Christ’s Sacrifice having occurred only once, it could not be replicated in any form.  Or so pontificated Protestant zealots, many of whom preferred rich Jews to reactionary Catholic scum.


Thus Oliver Cromwell, while massacring Catholics by the thousands, or replanting them in the bogs of Ireland, strove to bring the wealthy Dutch Jews, many being Sephardic refugees from Spain or Portugal, into England.  This involved negotiating with the wealthy Menassah ben Israel of Amsterdam over terms that were implicitly theological as well as financial and political.  Despite doctrinal differences the two men managed to find common ground.  The Jews, for instance, considered the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to be idolatrous.  While not agreeing totally, Cromwell and other Puritans tended to down play this; indeed some were rumored to deny it privately, and by another century or two, Unitarianism would be overt.


Meanwhile “godly Protestants” like Cromwell rationalized that bringing the Jews into England would hasten their conversion, and this in turn was a prerequisite for Christ’s Second Coming.  While not aware of any future “rapture,” Puritans of the time did believe in a coming earthly millennium. Regarding worldly success as a sign of godliness, they also saw the commercial advantages of interconnecting with Jewish trade networks.  The Jews, of course, would also benefit.  For his part, Menassah ben Israel believed their own Messiah — and millennial age –– would come only after the Jews had spread throughout the world.  Cromwell helped by facilitating, albeit unofficially, their entry into England.  Unlike British or Irish Catholics, Jewish immigrants were allowed to worship publicly, and even to establish a synagogue.


Dutch Jews would also assist William of Orange’s usurpation of the English throne. According to a recent Battlefield Britain documentary, the vast army that faced James II at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland boasted relatively few Englishmen.  Most of the invading troops were foreign Protestant mercenaries: Dutch, Germans, Danes and French Huguenots.  This took a lot of money.  James’ final defeat brought the crushing blow of penal laws — the worst ever –– for British and Irish Catholics, while Jewish immigrants and their offspring, experts at banking and trade, continued to prosper under English skies.  In contrast, thousands of young Irish men and women, along with priests and schoolmasters (Catholic schools being outlawed, as was the Mass) were rounded up and sold as slaves to planters in the West Indies.


Needless to say, the past sufferings of Catholics tend to be overlooked by dispensationalists.  If the fanatics among them are, in their millennial madness, the heirs of Cromwell, God help us.  Their ignorance not only defies common sense, it seems to contradict the theology underlying the most basic of Protestant doctrines.  Thus their vision of the restored Temple during the millennium includes the celebration of animal sacrifice, even with Jesus sitting there on the Davidic throne!  These, they rationalize, will serve as a reminder of what Jews have endured, just as the Lord’s Supper does for them.  But think about it.  The red heifers will be offered up in the flesh, not just in memory.  Also such real, live sacrifices will be celebrated at a time after Christ’s crucifixion — and that, remember, is their objection to the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass!  Maybe they figure the bloody ones are okay because, while taking place in the present — or future, rather — they hearken way back to a time before the Crucifixion, while the traditional Mass — well, sorry, it looks backwards, but not far enough.


If this sounds absurd, it’s because it is!


There is also the idolatry issue.  The traditional Mass, remember, involves the Real Presence, which Protestants consider idolatrous.  From this we should assume that no such Mass would be allowed in the rebuilt Temple during the Millennium.  The Protestant Lord’s Supper, they say, may be celebrated as a memorial of past travails, but it does not involve transubstantiation.  The Catholic Mass does, and the Real Presence would surely upstage that of whoever else might be there occupying the throne in the Temple.  It would also pose a threat to the spirit prevailing in the vicinity even now.  For in Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee says “God Himself chose to establish Jerusalem as His dwelling place on earth forever.  Jerusalem is the city where God’s presence dwells on the earth.”  Unable to find God in the tabernacle, Hagee senses a divine presence there in the ancient city with its Temple ruins.  Like the Jews at the Wailing Wall, he treats the site like some holy relic — which is ironic, considering that under other circumstances he would condemn such a reverential practice as idolatrous.


But if the Mass is not allowed, what about crosses, those simple signs of the crucifixion –– and of Jesus Himself?  Will they be tolerated in the rebuilt Temple?  With Jews in charge, it seems unlikely, considering what happened last November in Jerusalem.  According to a story in The Jerusalem Post, approximately 20 (other reports say 14 or 17) Austrian bishops, led by Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna, were refused access to the Western, or “Wailing” Wall, the surviving part of Herod’s Temple that is “the Jewish people’s holiest prayer site,” because they refused to remove the pectoral crosses hanging around their necks.  The rabbi in charge explained that crosses were a “symbol that hurt Jewish feelings.”


In yet another report by Israel National News the same rabbi is quoted as saying he would feel “the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a Church.”  Indeed, he “would be the first to rebuke such a Jew for not behaving like a mensch.”  He also insists, “They did not have to take them off, just hide them.  I’ve never encountered a Christian who has refused, including the Pope.”


 Here he alludes to John Paul II’s visit to said Wall back in 2002, though pictures of the event show the latter wearing a cross in plain sight.  Lest we feel inclined to praise him for his courage, however, we should ask why a supposed pope would be there at all, praying ritualistically in a place sacred to the Jews.  I mean, was this kosher of him?  Ironically, of course, it was, though not in any truly Catholic sense.  While there he even stuck a prayer in the chinks of the Wailing Wall asking forgiveness of the Jews for past injuries and expressing the desire to “commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”


 Returning to the Austrian bishops, Cardinal Schönborn, their spokesman at the time of the incident, told the press he did not feel disappointed in being turned away, because, as he put it so eloquently, “We have seen the Wall from the terrace and we were able to participate in the prayers of the Jews from afar.  Our decision to heed the requests not to approach the Wall was made out of respect for the religious sensitivities of the Jews.”


 Such words are to be expected from a man whom the Jerusalem Post calls “a friend of Israel.”  Back in 2005 Schönborn gave a speech at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, that was reported in the Washington Post.  In this he insists all Christians needed to “affirm Zionism as a biblical imperative for the Jewish people.”  Indeed, he says John Paul II himself had declared the “biblical commandment for Jews to live in Israel an everlasting covenant that remains valid today.”


 “Only once in human history did God take a country as an inheritance and give it to His chosen people,” the Cardinal says further, echoing, oddly enough, the words of another true believer we know all too well.  For in Jerusalem Countdown, John Hagee writes, “Israel is the only nation created by a sovereign act of God.”


With cardinals like Schönborn, who needs Cromwell?  It’s no wonder even hard-liners like Hagee and friends are gradually altering their view of the Catholic Church — and of the papacy.  Although the Left Behind authors do depict the end-times pope as an ally of Anti-Christ, they do not go so far as to identify him with that monster.  In this they differ, of course, from Protestants of old, perhaps because none of the real popes in recent centuries turned out to be the Man of Sin after all!  It is also true, however, that, as noted above, John Paul II and other papal pretenders since the Conclave of 1958 have compromised the doctrine of the Church to the extent that heretics no longer regard them as enemies.


 Surely this tells us something!


 In his books Hagee exults over the fact that John Paul II reconciled the Roman Catholic Church with “its anti-Semitic past” by memorializing the Holocaust and officially recognizing the State of Israel, the formation of which in 1948 was, for pro-Zionists, the pivotal event of the 20th century. We have already noted JPII’s visit to Jerusalem, and his note of apology to Jews stuck in the Wailing Wall.  Under him a pontifical commission headed by Cardinal Ratzinger also published a document that digressed from tradition in a way which would have delighted Cromwell, for it echoed the latter’s way of expressing common goals with Jews in terms of a future millennium.  Among other things, it says:


“Jewish messianic expectation is not in vain.  It can become for us Christians a powerful stimulant to keep alive the eschatological dimension of our faith.  Like them, we too live in expectation.  The difference is that for us the One who is to come will have the traits of the Jesus who has already come and is already present and active among us.”


Correct me if I err, but does this not imply that the Jewish Messiah has not yet come — and that he will in the future?  Surely this is apostasy, since Catholics believe Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament.  Who ever said there would be one Messiah for the gentiles, another for the Jews? The above document further says “Jesus” (not Christ, i.e., the Messiah) has indeed come — whoever He was exactly.  They don’t say.  As for who is coming again, for Christians this man “will have the traits of Jesus.”  It does not say that he actually will be Jesus.  Going by this, some con men could dress any smooth-voiced, long-haired actor up in flowing robes, stick him in the rebuilt Temple and say he is the One!


Though we have to be careful here, in that, according to Hagee, the reconstituted “Jesus” won’t even look like the image we probably have of him.  No, in his latest book he says that if Jesus showed up today at church on Sunday, we would not recognize him, because He “would appear small and slender with penetrating dark eyes, an olive complexion, and prominent Semitic features.”  He would also have “the long full earlocks (payot) of the Hebrews, his hair uncut at the corners, and a full manly beard, and his shoulders draped with a tallit (prayer shawl).”


Uh oh. This was obviously written before all the publicity over the Austrian bishops being turned away from the Wailing Wall.  If you will recall the words of the rabbi responsible for that, he said he would also “rebuke” a Jew who entered a church dressed in tallit and phylacteries.  Does this include Jesus?  Should not He too conform to the prevailing mode — or at least to that of Catholic visionaries?  Have all of the latter erred — or has Hagee?  Does he always know best?  Elsewhere in his book he says Jesus studied the Talmud, the “rabbinic commentaries on the law.”  But these were not in fact written down until long after His death!  Nor did Christ approve of everything being taught in the Temple of the time.  In the gospels, for instance, He condemns the so-called “traditions of the elders.”


Certainly Hagee’s latest book, In Defense of Israel, goes way beyond the bounds of normal Protestant belief.  Even Cromwell would be shocked by some of it.  Most dispensationalists must wonder when Hagee argues that Jesus gave the Jews no reason to believe that he was their Messiah!  Yes, he says that!  Furthermore, he claims Jesus did not in fact come to be that for them — not yet.  No, Hagee now says Christ’s Messianic mission to the Jews will not commence until — you guessed it — his Second Coming!  Only then will He assume the role of Messiah to the Jews, when he takes His place in the Temple!


This makes sense, paradoxically, only if we realize that Hagee has gone off the deep end, that is, way over to the Jewish viewpoint.  Back in grade school we learned that the Jews did in fact expect their Messiah to be a political ruler who would triumph over all enemies and establish an earthly empire.  As Catholics we understood this to be wrong.  Now Hagee is saying they were right, that by His words and actions, and especially by His suffering and death, Jesus “refused” any claim to be their Messiah! Yes, He gave them the right signals, and they understood and reacted as He wanted them to. They did nothing wrong; the Romans, aided by corrupt Jewish leaders, crucified Him —not the people themselves.  That time around his mission was for the gentiles, i.e., the Christians.  Only at his Second Coming, with the Church raptured away, will He come as the triumphant One longed for by the Jews.


This gets scary, if we realize how it could also fit the ambiguous scenario provided by the periti of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.  Does it not explain how “Jewish messianic expectation is not in vain”?  And how their Messiah will indeed come, while ours will return?  It gets scarier yet, if we know the Jewish viewpoint can include that of the Kabbala, and that Jewish scholars admit most adherents to this also believe in reincarnation.  How neat!  This means whoever runs the millennial show could take a charismatic Jew, put him on the Davidic throne and –– voilà!  Here He is!  He may not look like Jesus, but so what if he is the reincarnation thereof!  To use the pontifical terminology, he is the One –– for both the Jews and Christians.  He has come to the Jews for the First time, and to us for the Second.


In issuing that statement, John Paul II certainly was right on the proverbial target.  It’s no wonder he is lauded by Rabbi David Rosen of the International Jewish Committee, who was, in 2005, made a papal Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.  In Hagee’s book, Rosen is quoted as calling the Polish actor-pope a “hero of reconciliation,” one who would be remembered as “the best pope the Jews ever had.”


Yep, that says it all!


Click here for part II

Copyright 2008 by J. M. Gordon