End of days index for Christians rises

Evangelicals say war is a sign that apocalypse is near

The Rapture Index — a popular evangelical Christian Web posting that calculates a global rise in natural disasters, war and inflation — bills itself as “a Dow Jones industrial average of end-time activity.”

An index below 85 signifies a week of “slow prophetic activity.” Anything above 145 signals the apocalypse is near.

The Rapture Index this week: 158.

The increase reflects many U.S. evangelicals’ view that growing conflict in the Mideast signals the start of a global struggle leading to Christ’s return.

“We believe 100% what the Scripture has to say about this,” said Jack Heintz, a South Florida businessman and president of the Christian group Peace for Israel, who recruited 23 evangelical Christians to join a July telephone fund-raising event for Israel.

“There’s going to be a total battle, the battle of Armageddon, and I believe that’s very close to happening.”

Some ratcheted up support for Israel in its battle in Lebanon with Hizballah out of belief that a raging war — perhaps even a nuclear confrontation — marks a prelude to the apocalypse. Christian groups are sending millions of dollars to Israeli communities and shelters, hosting pro-Israel rallies and urging U.S. politicians to back Israeli military action.

Warnings are not new

Evangelicals have issued warnings about a conflagration in the Mideast for decades, said Clyde Wilcox, a professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who studies evangelicals and politics.

Many evangelicals regard such calls with skepticism, he said.

“Every time there’s been a war in the Middle East, this comes up,” Wilcox said.

When the current Mideast crisis began July 12, interest in the Rapture Index mushroomed, said Todd Strandberg, a Christian from Nebraska who updates the index on his Web site, raptureready.com. The site had a quarter-million unique visitors in July, up from 180,000 the previous month, Strandberg said.

“The Scripture bears witness to these events being part of the end-times prophecy,” said Gary Cristofaro, pastor of First Assembly of God in Melbourne, Fla. “Israel is so important in God’s eyes.”

Cristofaro’s church is among congregations that make a monthly donation to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which stems from a belief that Israel must control the Palestinian territories in order to fulfill biblical prophecy.

The congregation has donated more than $100,000 to support Israeli settlements in the past decade, Cristofaro said.

Evangelicals’ financial support for Israel has increasingly been supplemented by political action, Christian and Jewish leaders say.

Getting political

At a July 18-19 rally in Washington, Christians lobbied politicians to back Israel’s military campaign in Lebanon. The Rev. John Hagee, pastor of a mega-church in San Antonio and founder of Christians United for Israel, organized the convention in hopes of launching a pro-Israel political network in 50 states.

Hagee has issued predictions about instability in the region leading to apocalypse. In his 2006 book “Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World,” Hagee warns: “The coming nuclear showdown with Iran is a certainty. The war of Ezekiel 38-39 could begin before this book gets published.”

Other high-profile Christian leaders have espoused similar views.

In a July 22 commentary, the Rev. Jerry Falwell predicted present-day conflict in the Mideast will “serve as a prelude or forerunner to the future Battle of Armageddon and the glorious return of Jesus Christ.”

Pat Robertson has shied away from declaring Armageddon but has warned “God himself” will fight for Israel.

A final battle

Christian Zionism — the belief that Israel will set the stage for prophetic events such as the rise of an Antichrist, the Battle of Armageddon and Christ’s 1,000-year reign — has gained popularity since the rise of the Christian right in the 1970s and ’80s, said Timothy Weber, author of “On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend.”

Evangelicals see a global battle breaking out when a 200-million-man army invades from the east and Jesus returns to take on the Antichrist. Non-Christians will face conversion or death.

In the past, some Christians predicted the armies would come from Russia or China, and today, many foresee an Islamic army led by Iran, Weber said.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Detroit Free Press, USA
Aug. 23, 2006
Alexandra Alter

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday August 24, 2006.
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