BY NIRAJ WARIKOO
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Carlos Hall of Westland believes that Jesus will one day return — an idea shared by four out of five Christians, according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Hall’s belief in the end of times has a long history in Christianity, as well as in Judaism and Islam.
The three religions believe that humanity and time are headed toward an end.
Some Christians believe that Jesus will usher in a reign of peace after a tribulation period. At least one in five maintain the end will happen in their lifetime. Some denominations recite the creeds during services that specifically allude to the return of Jesus, saying, in part, “He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
Some Jews — in particular those who are Orthodox — believe that a messiah, who is a righteous descendant of King David, will come in the future to bring a time of peace.
And some Muslims believe that a descendant of the prophet Muhammad will appear to bring peace.
The arrests this month of nine members of Hutaree — a militia in Michigan whose members called themselves Christian warriors — have brought renewed attention to end-times theology.
To the Hutaree, the world was in the seven-year period of tribulations that comes before Christ’s return, said the head of the church they attended. They believed “the government is already influenced by the antichrist,” said Elton Spurgeon, pastor of Thornhill Baptist Church in Hudson. And so the time to fight was now, members believed.
But forming armed groups to go into battle is strongly rejected by the vast majority of those who believe that God has a plan to end time.
To many believers, the end of times is about keeping the faith and acting morally — so that you’ll be ready when the Lord arrives, experts say.
“I believe in fighting the good fight of faith,” said Gus Hassenrik, 82, of Westland, a Christian who believes the end of times is near. “But I don’t believe in taking up arms and fighting people.”
An ancient concept
The idea of an apocalypse stretches back more than 2,000 years and has its roots linked to the Old Testament patriarch Abraham.
The term “armageddon” itself is based on a battle between Jesus and the antichrist that some believers say will take place near the end of times in Megiddo, an area of northern Israel.
n 1999, the FBI completed a report called Project Megiddo that looked at various apocalyptic groups, some of them Christian, in advance of the millennium.
Apocalyptic scenarios have taken secular form, too, from science-fiction versions seen in Hollywood to the belief among some people that the ancient Mayan calendar predicts the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012. Others say that is a misinterpretation of Mayan beliefs.
And there has been growing talk among conservative Christians that the end of times is growing near because of what they see as an increase in immorality and because of liberal government policies. The extreme version of that was seen in the case of the Hutaree.
But Christians like Carlos Hall strongly reject the idea of committing acts of violence in the end of times.
“You cannot win a spiritual fight with physical tools like guns,” said Hall, 31. “Our job is to show God and each other love and compassion.”
Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov of the Shul in West Bloomfield said that Jewish people also have a vision of eventual peace in the end.
“No jealousy. No hatred. No wars. Just peace among nations,” Shemtov said, describing the end of days. “There will come a time when there is peace and harmony in the world.”
For many, their beliefs are rooted in the Bible.
The final book in the New Testament, Revelation, speaks of a violent apocalypse. And the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke contain verses describing a time of tribulation.
“There will be so much chaos, so much death, so much violence, more than the world has ever seen,” said Pastor Roger Ulman of Calvary Chapel in Kalamazoo.
Some Christians believe that God will lift saved Christians to heaven before the horrific violence of the end of times.
This idea gained popularity in recent years after Detroit native and Christian writer Tim LaHaye co-wrote a best-selling series of books called “Left Behind.”
LaHaye is to be in Kalamazoo May 1 to speak about the end of times at a prophecy conference hosted by Calvary Chapel. His popular series depicts the rapture, followed by a battle between heroic Christians and the agenda of a one-world government.
Jack Van Impe, a Christian preacher who broadcasts a syndicated TV show from a studio in Rochester Hills, uses news headlines as evidence the end of times is near. “Christ’s Return is Near! Don’t Miss it for the World!” he says on his Web site. The Hutaree Web site featured a link to his site.
Reflection of uncertainty
Apocalyptic beliefs may grow among people on the margins of society during times of economic uncertainty, say experts. It can offer them a better vision of the future that contrasts with their current plight.
At the same time, “it would not be right to tar the broader apocalyptic milieu with the brush of Hutaree,” said John Hall, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis, given that most such believers are not violent.
He said there is precedent for violent, religious-based groups in the U.S., such as one called the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord, a Christian group in Missouri whose members preached violence in the 1970s and ’80s.
The belief that Jesus will return is most common among white evangelical Protestants, 95% of whom believe, according to the Pew survey.
White mainline Protestants are least likely, with 60% believing in the return.
Some Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims also believe Jesus will return and work with a Muslim leader named Imam Mahdi to bring peace, said Dawud Walid, assistant imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit.
There are signs that Christ’s return is near, according to some Christians: wars, rumors of wars, disasters such as earthquakes.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come,” the gospel of Matthew attributes to Jesus.
Some say that current wars, coupled with recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, point to signs from God.
Israel is another sign that some Christians cite to show the end of times is near. They say the creation of the nation of Israel, and its tensions with neighbors, is fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.
So conservative Christians increasingly argue that support for Israel is a must because it’s biblically mandated for Jews to gather in Israel before Christ’s return and their acceptance of him.
Some conservative Christian say one sign that the end is near is an increase in policies and practices they see as immoral and anti-Christian, such as those relating to abortion and gay marriage.
But other Christians are doubtful about how soon the end will come.
“I don’t think anybody knows” when the end of time is coming, “because we’ve had wars going on for a long time,” said Martin Hardy, 67, of Southfield, a Christian. “I don’t think we can pinpoint when is the end of time.”