(RNS) — The End Times are not a topic Robert Jeffress needs much prompting to talk about. But when war broke out between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas, and a national figure among American evangelicals, quickly prepared a sermon series on the Apocalypse, which would be accompanied by a forthcoming book on the subject
On Nov. 5, as the last notes of “Redemption Draweth Nigh,” a hymn about Jesus’ return, resonated in First Baptist’s 3,000-seat sanctuary, Jeffress asked his audience, “Are we actually living in what the Bible calls the End Times?”
The war in Gaza is not the only sign Jeffress submitted as evidence that the period presaging Jesus’ Second Coming, detailed in the Bible’s Book of Revelation and other Scriptures, is coming closer. He noted, too, rising crime rates, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and natural disasters before announcing, “We are on the verge of the beginning of the End Times.”
“Things are falling into place for this great world battle, fought by the super powers of the world, as the Bible said. They will be armed with nuclear weapons,” he said.
Other prominent evangelicals have taken up the theme in their sermons. The day following Hamas’ attack, in which Israeli cities were barraged and some 1,200 people were massacred, Greg Laurie, senior pastor at the Harvest Riverside Fellowship in California, framed the violence in terms of End Times prophecy.
“The Bible tells us in the End Times that Israel will be scattered and regathered,” Laurie said. “The Bible predicted hundreds of thousands of years ago that a large force from the North of Israel will attack her after she (Israel) was regathered and one of the allies with modern Russia, or Magog, will be Iran or Persia.”
Before calling the church to pray for peace in Jerusalem, Laurie added, “If you get up in the morning and read this headline ‘Russia Attacks Israel,’ fasten your seatbelt because you’re seeing Bible prophecy fulfilled in your lifetime.”
While apocalyptic theology is threaded throughout the Bible and came to America with the Puritans, End Time prophecy has gone through cycles of popular acceptance among Christians. It has different strands, but in its most widely known version, known as dispensationalism, Israel is a linchpin to the events of the last days, when, after the Rapture, a coterie of 144,000 Jews are to be converted to Christ before eternity begins.
Evangelical Christian pastors such as Jeffress have long prompted the United States to be an actor in these events. In his second sermon in the End Times series, on Nov. 12, Jeffress quoted the speech he gave at the ceremony dedicating the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem in 2018: “For America to be on the right side of Israel is the same as being on the right side of history, and the right side of God.”
The embassy’s move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was the fulfillment of a promise Donald Trump made in 2016 as he ran for president for the first time, one applauded by pro-Israel evangelicals. In August 2020, as he ran for reelection, then-President Trump told a campaign rally in Wisconsin, “We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem. That’s for the evangelicals.”
Also present the day Jeffress spoke in Jerusalem was the televangelist John Hagee, who in 2006 founded Christians United for Israel, now the largest pro-Israel organization in the U.S. On Oct. 22, CUFI hosted a “Night to Honor Israel” rally at Hagee’s Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, with Israeli public figures on hand, as well as U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton.