I had lunch with a friend this week who, like me, grew up expecting the Rapture to happen any day. We talked about the European Union referendum, which quickly led on to the evangelical conspiracy theories about the EU we grew up with.
Knowing something about my readers’ political views, I’m guessing not many of you are celebrating today’s European Union Referendum result. I was foolishly confident Britain would vote to remain in the EU, so I thought you’d enjoy chuckling about what evangelicals believe the relationship of the EU is to the Rapture. Now we’ve gone and given Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage all their Christmases at once, I suppose you might not be so much in the mood to laugh. So let’s look at it this way: at least it’s not the actual apocalypse.
Or is it?!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61L6hB7c1bg
*Dun dun dun*
Let’s jet back in time to 1995, when the UK’s first Christian TV channel was just launching. At the time the Christian Channel Europe was only on air for two hours a day, but some journalists still noticed the likes of Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and Pat Robertson appearing on our screens for the first time. I vividly remember an interview with a national newspaper where Christian Channel founders Rory and Wendy Alec claimed that the European Union fulfilled a Biblical prophecy about the resurrection of the Roman Empire. They said the Antichrist would arise from this context, leading to the Rapture of the saints, the seven year Tribulation in which God’s wrath is poured out on the Earth, and finally the battle of Armageddon.
[Jonny goes off to Google to see if this article is online…]
Holy shit, it is online! I love the Internet.
OK, the relevant section begins with Rory Alec talking.
“I believe God has his eye on Europe for the last move of God, the last outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the New Testament, it is continually announcing that Christ will return. No one knows when. But there are seasons that you can watch for – rumours of war, nations fighting with nations – Israel becoming a nation. And the European Community is extremely important, though don’t quote us on this.”
“Rumours of war” here is a reference to Matthew 24:6, that one of the signs of the End Times shall be “wars and rumours of war”. Since there has never been a time in human history without war or rumour of war, this was a fairly safe bet. I also love Rory’s “don’t quote us on this”, revealing that he had at least some idea how absurd this sounded (and no idea how journalists operate).
“You mean,” I said, “that the European Union is another sign of the last days?”
“Oh it sure is, right.”
Rory says, “The 10 nations, yeah.”
I point out, “It’s more than 10 already.”
When this article was published, the EU had 15 member states…
Wendy says, “Two will drop away, and when it’s 10 and has been 10 for a while, then…”
Rory: “…We’re very close.”
… so as well as being rubbish at biblical exegesis, Rory and Wendy were also quite bad at counting.
Neither I nor anyone I knew regularly read the Independent, but I remember reading this article when it came out, so I guess some industrious church member heard they were being interviewed and made photocopies to pass around the congregation. And of course, what the Alecs were saying made complete sense to us, because we heard this stuff all the time. I remember thinking how brave it was for them to predict that the EU would shrink to ten nations in a national newspaper, but also how the whole world would see the truth of biblical prophecy when they were vindicated, as they surely would be.
So what were they talking about?
In the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. In it, he sees a statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, and belly and thighs of bronze. Its lower legs were iron, and his feet part iron and part clay. The prophet Daniel is brought before Nebuchadnezzar to interpret the dream. Daniel tells the king that the head represents his empire (the Babylonians). After him will come three more empires before the End of Days. At the end of the fourth empire, God will set up his kingdom on earth:
In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
A lot of evangelicals believe this refers to Christ’s return. DON’T ASK ME HOW. I was ten when I learned this shit. I didn’t ask questions, I just believed. I am not going to try to defend to you a bunch of evangelicals with almost no knowledge of history, textual criticism, or literary genres trying to claim that a Hebrew apocalyptic book is actually about Jesus coming back in the present day.
ANYWAY, the ‘Prophecy Update’ blog gives a fairly good representation of what I believed:
Gold Head: Babylonian Empire (626 BC – 539 BC)
Silver Chest/Arms: Medo-Persian Empire (539 BC – 330 BC)
Bronze Belly and Thighs: Greecian Empire (330 BC – 63 BC)
Iron Legs: Roman Empire (63 BC ->)
This gives Christians a problem. The Roman Empire collapsed quite a while ago, and there’s still no sign of Jesus’ return. Since the Bible can’t possibly be wrong (and apparently their interpretation is also unquestionable), the Roman Empire must be going to spring back to life somehow just before Jesus comes back.
THEREFORE the European Union is the Roman Empire reborn (just go with it, OK?).
THEREFORE the European Union is a GIANT CONSPIRACY to bring about the rise of the Antichrist and must be RESISTED AT ALL COSTS (There were lots of Illuminati/New World Order/Rothschild conspiracy theories attached to this. 10-year-old Jonny would have voted Brexit so hard).
THEREFORE there must be ten countries to represent the ten toes in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision.
THEREFORE some countries have to drop out.
Back when there were only 15 countries in the EU, I guess that seemed a vaguely plausible story, assuming you accept the other premises of the evangelicals’ interpretation of scripture (and why wouldn’t you?). With 28 countries, it looked… a bit shaky. I haven’t kept up with evangelical eschatology in the years since I left church, so I don’t know what the score is today. Are they pretending they never made those wild predictions, just like they pretend they never said Jesus was definitely coming back in 1988? Have they moved on to some new interpretation of Daniel 2? Will Brexit lead to wild predictions of a stampede of nations leaving the EU, shrinking it to the necessary ten?
Various sites discuss the ten toes and their relationship to the EU with a perfectly straight face. A blogger called housetops explains that in the Last Days “The 200+ nations of the earth will be amalgamated into ten super-nations”.
Meanwhile, theTrumpet.com rings with the headline “Bible Prophecy Foretold Brexit!” However, this was only published today. Personally, I find prophecies which describe events that have already happened to be the less impressive kind of prophecy.
Turns out Bible in the News called it bang on. On January 17, they ran a post entitled “Britain’s exit from Europe is inevitable!”
Well that does it. I’m off to reconsider my atheism.