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Herb Rothschild Jr.: The tribulation at the end of time, and now

In 2010, when I was in the Jackson County Master Gardener program, I often carpooled to the extension center with another student who lived in Talent. A lovely man, he had worked for a fundamentalist Christian denomination before his retirement.

We talked gardening, not politics and rarely religion. On one occasion, however, he mentioned the impending end times as foretold in various ways in Christian scriptures. I responded that people have been predicting the second coming since the time of the early church, but it invariably fails to happen. This time is different, he declared, because the Jews have returned to reign in Jerusalem.

Large numbers of fundamentalist Christians believe in the following version of apocalyptic prophecy. Three events must occur before the Messiah can return: the nation of Israel must be restored; Jerusalem must be a Jewish city; and the Temple, the center of worship and sacrifice for ancient Jews, last destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., must be rebuilt on the Temple Mount.

When the Temple is built, here’s how events will unfold. There will be a period of terrible suffering on earth during which most Jews and other non-Christians will perish (a few of them will come to their senses, accept Jesus Christ as their savior, and survive). True Christians will be spared the Tribulation because they will have been “raptured” — snatched directly into Heaven — before the troubles begin. They will return to act as priests during Christ’s millennial reign. At the end of those thousand years, Satan will rally the forces of evil for a final confrontation with Jesus and his saints at the battle of Armageddon. The satanic army will be destroyed, all the dead will rise for their day of judgment, and a New Jerusalem will descend from the sky.

In the 2016 election, at most 4% of U.S. voters were Jewish, and 71% of us voted for Clinton. It isn’t to U.S. Jews that Trump has been pandering with his Israel policies, the latest of which is to green-light Israel’s annexation of some 30% of the occupied West Bank. It is to the fundamentalist Christians, who make up at least half of his rock-solid base. Unlike most U.S. Jews, these people wholeheartedly endorse the original and persistent Zionist aspiration of re-taking all of the “Holy Land,” knowing full well that it means the removal and/or extermination of the Palestinians. But unlike the fundamentalist Zionists who are intent on realizing this ambition and who now firmly control Israel, fundamentalist Christians look forward to the apocalyptic destruction of Jews as well as Muslims.

Currently standing on the Temple Mount, which Muslims call Haram esh-Sharif, is the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site of Islam. Its sanctity and that of the surrounding precinct are so important to Muslims that when, on Sept. 28, 2000, Gen. Ariel Sharon, then a cabinet minister, with Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s blessing, made a deliberately provocative visit to Harem esh-Sharif accompanied by some 1,000 armed guards, violence spontaneously erupted and the Second Intifada began. Nevertheless, large numbers of Israelis applauded this assertion of control over East Jerusalem. Barak’s approval rating shot up from 20% to 50%, and in March the following year Sharon was elected prime minister.

Will Israel stick its thumb even deeper into the eye of Islam by some day razing the Dome of the Rock? If so, fundamentalist Christians will rejoice, and a very real global tribulation will begin.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Ashland Tidings every Saturday.