Off the Mountain Parkway at Slade and up State Road 77 sits a white frame church. The sign facing the traffic names the structure as the “End Time Tabernacle,” which leaves the traveler wondering about doctrine, practice and affiliation but not at all about their expectations.
For the last century or more, a fascination with the End has taken root in the fertile soil of the religious imagination. What has come to fruition in our day is a colorful harvest of ideas, events, publications, movements, strategies and odd alliances that have as their focus what Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg calls, in the title of his wonderful book, “The End of Days.”
It began more than 100 years ago when preachers on both sides of the Atlantic became interested in the restoration of the Jewish people and the return of Jesus.
A few years later, the German Jew Theodor Herzl initiated a move to resettle Palestine with Jewish people. Although secular in orientation, this Zionism fit neatly into the end-time speculation of some Jews and Christians.
In 1909 Oxford Press of England published the first edition of the Scofield Reference Bible. It asserted the novel idea that the present “Church Age” would end when Christian people are snatched into heaven by the “Rapture.”
In 1948, Jewish settlers and soldiers in Palestine established the state of Israel. Some Jews and Christians were convinced this was a fulfillment of biblical prophecy and declared the redemption of the world was imminent.
In 1970, Hal Lindsey wrote The Late Great Planet Earth. Today 34 million copies are in print in 54 languages. He predicted the return of Jesus during the ’80s.
Seven years later, in 1995, the first Left Behind book appeared, popularizing the rapture ideas of Scofield. It started as a single book, became a trilogy, and now, with 14 volumes, has become the most successful series in publishing history.
In August of 1996, a red calf was born on a farm in Israel. She was named Melody and thousands of Jews and Christians thought this animal would fulfill the biblical requirements for a red heifer, a sacrificial animal. When white hairs appeared on her head and in her tail, fans had to look elsewhere for their hope.
Then, of course, came the millennium, that arbitrary marker of human chronology. Secular anxiety about the Y2K computer glitch proved as unfounded as the religious anticipation of the End.
All of this and much more is described in Gorenberg’s book, an Oxford paperback published in 2002 with the interesting subtitle, Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. You will find it compelling reading.
The space to which he refers is the large, 35-acre plaza at the heart of Jerusalem which contained, among other things, the temple of the Jewish people. It was built by Herod the Great in the years immediately preceding the birth of Jesus.
It is sacred also to the Muslims. Their tradition says it was here, from the stone that once served as the altar for the Hebrew patriarchs and priests, that Muhammad departed earth for his famous night journey to heaven. Today, the site is occupied by a beautiful mosque called the Dome of the Rock.
TempleMount figures prominently in the end-time expectations of many (but not most) Jews, Christians and Muslims. These sub-cultures of religious believers expect Messiah to appear, transform the sacred topography of Jerusalem, and establish an everlasting kingdom of justice and peace. Each thinks Messiah will vindicate its own religion and vanquish all others.
At the university, scholars call it apocalyptic theology. They define it as attention to historical events over-laid with anticipation of a cataclysmic and supernatural intervention. Good examples, they say, are the books of Daniel and Revelation.
But at the End Time Tabernacle, they have other explanations—like revelation, prophesy and divine inspiration. With a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, they see the End approaching, and with faith and fervor issue the call to repent.
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.