Hopefully the prophecy of Apostolos Makrakis is correct and it will be restored to the Glory of Christ in this century!
666, Rapture, Millennium and other things
It seems that whenever one visits the religious section of various bookstores they are exposed to a multitude of books predicting the "End Times", the rise of the "Antichrist", the coming of the "Rapture" and the "Second Coming of our Lord". Indeed, the Left Behind" series of books has a following of millions in this country alone. Do these books and readings accurately predict what is coming and more importantly, do they reflect the beliefs of the Orthodox Church?
Briefly, at the core of all these readings is the belief that the Antichrist is presently alive and prior to his coming to power, Christian believers will be bodily taken to heaven (raptured out of this world). Seven years following the Antichrist coming to power, the Lord will come back to the earth, destroy the Antichrist, his false prophet their followers and bind Satan in the bottomless pit. This will be followed by 1000 years (Millennial period) of Christ's rule on earth and at the end of this period, Satan will be released for a short period of time to cause havoc on the earth. After this period, Christ will return again and cast Satan into the fires of hell. Additionally, there are many end time writers who argue that the millennial period is literal, an exact 1000 year time frame, and that it might be Pre-millennial (Christ returns before establishing the Millennium) or that it might be Post-millennial (Christ returns after establishing the Millennium).
In the face of all this, what does the Orthodox Church teach and believe regarding this rapture, the number 666, the Millennium, the 1000-year reign of Christ and our Lord's return to earth?
The Book of Revelation and 666
As one reads the book of Revelation, it becomes apparent to the reader that it is a book of visions. However the early Church Fathers understood that those visions were not in chronological order. Fundamentalists take a literal read on the visions and thus they see a chronology, an opinion unknown to the early Fathers. Revelation is the only book of the Bible that is never read during Eastern Orthodox services. Not because it is non-Canonical, which it is, but because unless one is willing to learn the Greek to read it in the original language and understands the various nuances of the Greek language, misunderstanding will arise. As an example, the famous 666, the "secret" identification of the Antichrist is nothing more then an allegory referencing Nero. St. John plainly says in Revelation, "those with wisdom will understand". What he meant by that is that the number 666 (which is a derivation of Nero's name numerically) can also be assigned as an example of anti-Christ types. What his readers understood ("those with wisdom will understand") was that he was referring to Domitian, the Roman Emperor at that time and an antagonist against the Christians.
Regarding the rapture, Dave Elfering of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Omaha, NE writes, "All Christians up until the 1830's believed in basically the same things about the Second Coming of Christ. During the 1830's Margaret Macdonald, a Scottish member of a sect known as the Irvingites, made the first claim that there would be a trance (or rapture) and the faithful would be gathered to Christ before the period of persecution" (The Great Tribulation).
The Protestant leader John Nelson Darby picked up this view and Cyrus Ingerson Scofield embraced Darby's views and placed them in the footnotes of his Scofield Reference Bible. This Bible was widely used in England and America and many who read it readily accepted the idea of a "rapture". Thus it can be said that prior to 1830, there was no concept of a rapture either in Biblical teaching or Holy tradition. However once it appeared in the Scofield Bible, it rapidly spread among fundamentalist and new Protestant denominations that were appearing during the 1800's.
The Orthodox Church does believe in the Millennium period but not the Pre or post-millennial Protestant fundamentalist or evangelical concepts. The Orthodox view is that the Millennium period is Amillennial, a position that is in concert with Catholic and mainstream Protestant teaching which states that the Millennium exists from His resurrection to the Second Coming.
The early Fathers taught, and the Orthodox Church teaches today, that the Millennium period is here and now. The Fathers taught that the Millennial period began with Christ's Resurrection because this signaled the defeat and binding up of Satan. This is also called the beginning of the Church age. There are many references to Satan being defeated and bound up in order for the Church to flourish such as:
Rev 20:3 his specific purpose to being bound up was that nations should not be deceived for 1000 years (read this as a long time), also see Acts 5:3, 1 Cor 5:5, Eph 6:11, 1 Pet 5:8.
Jude 6 says the angels are bound
Christ's first advent, He defeats Satan as prophesied in Gen 3:15
Christ lifted up defeats Satan, John 12:31, 32
Son of God was manifested for this purpose, 1 John 3:8
Lord disarmed principalities and powers, Col 2:15
He led captivity captive, Eph 4:8
Christ destroyed him who had the power of death, Heb 2:14
Because Satan has been cast down and bound, we now have authority over him through Christ, Matt 28:18
Kingdom has arrived, Matt 12:28, 29
A read of the above scriptures indicates he is in chains BUT, as other scripture indicate, he is able to roam (1 Peter 5.8). This shows the chains are figurative and that he is only restricted in his actions having been defeated by Christ. Some Evangelicals & Fundamentalists cite the 1000 years as literal but then go on to say that the chains that hold Satan are figurative. But they cannot have it both ways, either it is literal or, as the early Fathers taught, the 1000 years and the chains are figurative. There are many other references of "thousand(s)" which have been interpreted by the early Church Fathers as meaning a long period of time. This is analogous to our parents when they told us as children, "if I've told you once I've told you a thousand times". The 1000 years, or the Millennium, until 150 years ago always meant a long time, not a definite period of time. As an example, the 70 weeks of Daniel are not a literal 70 weeks.
Thus it can be said on the authority of Christ, the Apostles and the early Church Fathers that Satan has been bound and he has been bound since our Lord's resurrection and that has been for almost 2000 years.
At the end Of the Church age, Satan will be released, "for a little while", the Antichrist will come, the Tribulation will be upon us and the Second Coming of Christ will shorten the days. This Second Coming is the one spoken by Matthew at the end of his Gospel when the Angel said He (Christ) would return as he ascended. And these verses at the end of Matthew also are part of the objections to the rapture issue because the Angel did not say there would be multiple returns by Christ. The early Church Father's understood the Millennial Kingdom as now and to re-enforce that understanding, included "and His Kingdom will have no end" in the Apostolic Creed. And they also understood that when He came back, it would be as the great Judge, i.e., "and He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead", again included in the Apostolic Creed.
It might also be interesting to note what St. Vincent of Lerins* said in 434 AD for establishing the orthodoxy of a teaching. "Moreover, in the Church itself, all possible care must be taken that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all". This statement is extremely important because it indicates that the teachings of the 12 primary Apostles and the 70 lesser Apostles (Barnabas, Mark etc., etc) were the same and derived from the same source (Christ), wherever they preached the Good News. Contact with each other was sporadic and time consuming. As the Church began to grow, Disciples of the Apostles passed on the teachings of the Lord as Gospels, Letters and Sacred Tradition. Later followers spread the message throughout the known world and in this time period, there was no teaching regarding a rapture, a post millennial, Pre-millennial or literal 1000-year reign of Christ no matter who the teacher was or where they were in the Empire.
* St. Vincent of Lerins
Our Lord's Return
Our Lord will return, but as He stated, only the Father knows the day and the hour of His return. Some of the prophecy guru's who claim to have Revelation completely figured out agree, but then will attempt to predict the month and the year. The real danger here is that some believers will get so engrossed in timetables that they neglect the messages of salvation, love and fellowship that He offers. And in accepting and believing in Him and His message, a believing Orthodox Christian negates any need for a timetable. The believing Orthodox Christian is one who has been saved, is being saved and will be saved by their very ongoing relationship with Christ. It doesn't matter when Christ returns, believers look forward to His return because they inwardly know their final destination. Believers are well aware of the words of our Lord in Matt 24:16, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect".
There is a second danger as well. Many Orthodox and other Christian scholars have suggested that the entire rapture concept may be one of the greatest lies inspired by the prince of evil. For if one is anticipating a rapture, a rapture that is not biblical nor an event that will even occur, the antichrist, when he does comes, will not be recognized for who he really is. As our Lord told his Disciples in Matt 24:24 "For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect".
And finally, there are some few Orthodox and other expositors who sense that the antichrist has already come in time past.............but that is another story.
The entire 23rd and 24th chapter of Matthew (Orthodox Study Bible highly recommended).
Ultimate Things by Dennis Englemen (Available from Light & Life Publishing).
A Second Look at the Second Coming by T. L. Frazier, Conciliar Press. ISBN 1-888212-14-4.
Both Mr. Englemen and Mr. Frazier write from an Orthodox perspective