With all the killer storms, earthquakes, wars and disease dominating our news, it's not surprising that recent studies indicate a ballooning interest in End Times Prophecy. Even non-believers are wondering if the end is near. What is surprising is how little most Christians actually know about prophecy, especially since it comprises about 40% of the Bible's content, more than any other topic.
With few exceptions seminaries don't teach it, so preachers don't preach it. And therefore Christians don't learn it. In all my years as a denominational Christian, I never once heard a message explaining the importance of prophecy to a believer's walk with the Lord. And yet the Bible devotes more space to End Times Prophecy than it does to all the teachings of Jesus.
When Christians are asked why they don't study prophecy more seriously the most common reasons given are 1) because it scares them, and 2) because it confuses them. Both responses are borne out of a lack of understanding. For the believer, prophecy is neither scary nor confusing but the key to understanding God's plan for man.
The purpose of this book is to provide a solid foundation for further study. When the foundation of a building is stable and solid, the entire building is stronger, able to withstand powerful forces that would otherwise weaken or even topple it. So it is when the foundation of our study is solid. Powerful arguments from scoffers and unbelievers cannot shake us or weaken our faith. Let's get started.
Seven Things You Have To Know There are seven pieces of information that are essential to understanding End Times Prophecy. They're the building blocks for the strong foundation we want. Once you've learned them, these seven things will help you avoid the mistakes that have thrown others off the track. Call it perspective or overview or whatever you want, this combination of facts will give you the ability to put all the prophetic verses in the Bible into their proper context.
1) The Sequence Of Major Events First is knowing what happens and when. It gets really confusing if you don't know the sequence in which major End Times events will occur. Actually their order is very logical, and once you learn it, you'll wonder why you didn't see it before. The best way to figure it out is to perform what the business world sometimes calls a back scheduling exercise. It involves going to the very end of a process and identifying the final outcome. Then you list in reverse order all the things that have to happen to produce that outcome, backing into the present. It's simpler than it sounds, and much simpler in prophecy than in business because there are many fewer events to organize. Let's do it.
What Are We Waiting For? We all think of Eternity as the final outcome, and so starting at the end and working backwards means we begin there. But the last major event described in any detail in the Bible is the Kingdom Age or Millennium, the Lord's 1000 year reign on Earth, which is distinguished from and precedes Eternity. The very last chapter of Revelation describes trees on either side of the River of Life bearing a different fruit every month. That means time still exists, and Eternity by definition is the absence of time. We'll talk more about that later. For now let's just say that Eternity can't happen till the Millennium is over.
The Millennium obviously can't happen till the Second Coming, because that's when the Lord returns to establish it. And the Second Coming can't happen till the end of the Great Tribulation. And that can't happen till the anti-Christ stands in the Temple in Israel declaring himself to be God. (2 Thes. 2:4) That's the event Jesus warned Israel to look for as the Great Tribulation's opening salvo. He called it "The Abomination of Desolation" in Matt. 24:15-21.
But that can't happen till there's a Temple. There hasn't been a Temple in Israel since 70AD and there won't be one until the Jews officially decide they need one. They won't need one until God reinstates their Old Covenant relationship, signaling the start of Daniel's 70th week. And that can't happen till the Battle of Ezekiel 38-39 is won. And that can't happen till the Church is gone. And that brings us to the present, because there is no preceding event for the Rapture of the Church. It could happen at any time.
You Got That? So the Sequence of Major Events is this: The Rapture of the Church, The Battle of Ezekiel 38, Daniel’s 70th week begins, The Great Tribulation, The 2nd Coming, The Millennium, Eternity.
To those who read Scripture as it's written only two of the events in this sequence are subject to debate as to timing. Those are the Rapture and the Battle of Ezekiel 38, the first two on our list. So lets find out why they have to be where I've placed them in the sequence. Maintaining our back schedule mentality, we'll begin with Ezekiel's battle and work back to the Rapture.
"And I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid on them. The house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God, from that day forward.
Then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, because I sent them into exile among the nations and then assembled them into their own land. I will leave none of them remaining among the nations anymore. And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD." (Ezek 39:21-22, 28-29)
The Lord has declared in no uncertain terms that He's going to use Ezekiel's battle to spiritually awaken His people and call them to Israel from all over the world. This will result in the re-instatement of their Old Covenant relationship, reviving Daniel's long dormant "70-Weeks" prophecy for its final seven years and requiring that a Temple be constructed. Without one there's no way for them to keep His covenant. (If you're not familiar with Daniel's "70 Weeks", click on the link at the end of this article.)
This was proven once before in history during the Babylonian captivity. When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the 1st Temple, Israel ceased to exist. But as soon as Cyrus the Persian defeated Babylon and freed the Jews, they returned to Israel and began building a Temple before they did anything else. Without a Temple there's no sacrifice for sin, and without that sacrifice, Jews cannot approach God.
Both the Old and New Testaments refer to a Temple in Israel at the End of the Age. The only reason for a Temple is to perform Old Covenant ordinances. But building one today would cause such an uproar that no one in his right mind would consider it. Jews don't want one, since only one out of four is religious and even religious Jews are divided on the issue. And it goes without saying that Moslems would go to war to prevent it.
Only a unified demand from the people of Israel accompanied by quiet acceptance from their Moslem neighbors would make the construction of a Temple even thinkable. Sound impossible? Ezekiel's battle results in both a Jewish nation re-awakened to the presence of God and an utterly defeated Moslem attack force in no position to resist. The perfect conditions will finally exist to start building. For these reasons, Ezekiel's battle has to take place on the threshold of Daniel's 70th week. Now why does the Rapture of the Church have to precede Ezekiel's battle?
They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:24)
When Jerusalem became a Jewish city again in 1967, it was a signal that the era of Gentile Dominion, begun with Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, was finally coming to an end. For 2500 years, gentile nations had been running things on Earth, but now events would begin to draw Israel to the forefront once again.
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)
Reborn first in unbelief (Ezek. 37:8) Israel would remain partially estranged from God until the gentile Church reached its full complement (predetermined number) and arrived at its destination. (The Greek word translated "fullness" was a nautical term often used to describe the full complement of crew and cargo necessary to accomplish a ship's mission. The ship couldn't sail till those requirements were met. The one translated "come in" means to arrive at a designated place.)
Then the veil would be pulled back as God revealed Himself to them again. As we saw above, He will use Ezekiel's battle to begin this by renewing the Old Covenant with them, later transitioning Israel from the Old Covenant to the New during the Great Tribulation. (Zech 12:10) Remember, if they didn't go back to the Old covenant first, they wouldn't need a Temple. He's picking them up where they left off.
After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, 'After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.' (Acts 15:13-18)
It was about 20 years after the cross. The controversy of the day was whether Gentiles had to become Jews before they could become Christians. And if not, what would become of Israel? The Lord's brother James explained to the Apostles and others present at the Council of Jerusalem that Israel was being temporarily set aside while God focused on the Church. After He had taken this "people for His name" (Christians) from among the Gentiles he would return and rebuild His Temple. The passage implies that He would take the Church somewhere and then come back to rebuild the Temple, restore Israel, and give what's left of mankind one final chance to seek Him.
These three Bible prophecies make it clear that once Jerusalem became a Jewish city again, God would begin preparing Israel to be His once more. But He wouldn't be exclusively focused on them until He was finished building the Church and had taken us to our appointed place. And where is that? In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3) (He didn't promise to come back to be with us here, but to take us there, where He was.) After that He would see to Israel's reawakening and the construction of their Temple.
Throughout Scripture, the Lord seems to be involved with either Israel or the Church, but never both at the same time. James bears this out in his pronouncement regarding the Church in Acts 15. All the leaders of the early church now knew that once God had accomplished His goals with the church, He would turn again to Israel.
For this reason, the rebirth of Israel in 1948 and the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 are seen as the most important signs of all that the End of the Age is upon us. The Sequence of Major Events is only the first of "Seven Things You Have To Know To Understand End Times Prophecy." Next time we'll look at some more of them. 03-18-06
Seven Things You Have To Know To Understand End Times Prophecy … Part 2 Ikvot ha'Mashiach
Our previous study covered the Sequence of Major Events. We'll begin this segment with the second item on our list of seven.
2) The Destiny Of The Three Components Of Humanity: The Nations, Israel, And The Church Even so-called experts misinterpret prophecy when they don't stop to consider who the Lord, or one of His prophets, is addressing. Just because something's in the Gospels doesn't necessarily mean that it's for the Church, or being in Isaiah that it's only for Israel. Knowing a prophecy's intended recipient is critical to understanding it, and there are three possibilities.
His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephes. 2:15-16) Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks (Gentiles) or the church of God. (1 Cor. 10:32)
Over time the human race came to be divided into three distinct components from God's perspective. Here's how it happened. From the Creation there was one race of Human, the family of man, later called Gentiles. Then in Genesis 12, God called Abraham to build a great nation. From that time on, the world's population was either Jew or Gentile. But at the cross God created the Church, taken from among both Jews and Gentiles but sharing a destiny with neither. Now there were three. In his epistles, Paul always took pains to distinguish the Church from both Jews and Gentiles, in effect calling the Church a new race of Human. I'll describe each group's destiny so you can see how different they are.
According to Isaiah 56:6-8, Gentiles who converted to Judaism during Old Testament times became part of Israel and share its destiny (see below). Gentiles who meet their Lord after the church disappears become tribulation saints. They're either martyred for their faith, in which case they serve God in His Temple (Rev 7:13-17), or survive to help re-populate Earth in the Kingdom age. Believing Gentile survivors are the sheep in the Sheep and Goat Judgment that we'll look at later.
Jews (and converted Gentiles) who died in faith of a coming redeemer before Jesus went to the cross, were taken into Heaven with Him after His resurrection (Matt. 27:52-53). They'll receive resurrection bodies at the Second Coming. (Daniel 12:1-3) Jews who receive Him as their Messiah after the church disappears are hidden in the Jordanian desert (Petra) during the Great Tribulation. (Rev. 12:14) Both groups will dwell in Israel during the Millennium. (Ezekiel 43:6-7)
Of course Jews and Gentiles who give their hearts to Jesus during the Church age become part of the Church and after the rapture / resurrection will populate the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21). Many of us were taught to call it Heaven, but it's actually a separate entity. (More on this in our discussion of the Millennium, item 6 on our list of 7 Things You Have To Know.)
Those who don't do any of the above during their lifetimes will be tormented in the fires of Hell until they're brought back to life to stand trial at the Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20:11-15. It takes place at the end of the Millennium. They'll be judged by their works and sentenced to eternal suffering in the Lake of Fire. (Rev. 20:14) If humans could attain Eternal Life on our own merits, then Jesus didn't have to die for us.
In the Old Testament, God promised Israel that He would return one day to dwell among them in their land on Earth (Ezekiel 43:6-7). In the New, Jesus promised the Church that He would come back and take us to be with Him in His Father's House (John 14:1-3). Both promises come true. Israel is not the Church nor is the Church Israel, and both groups are distinct from the Gentile nations. Much of the confusion surrounding End Times prophecy results either from the failure to understand, or the refusal to accept, this truth.
3) The Purpose And Length Of The Great Tribulation How awful that day will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it. I am with you and will save you,' declares the LORD . 'Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.' (Jeremiah 30:7,11)
Jesus said that the Great Tribulation would be the most intense period of judgment the world has ever seen, greater than the World Wars, and even greater than the Flood of Noah. He said that if it were left to run its course, not a single human being would survive. But for the sake of His people He would stop it at its appointed time. (Matt. 24:22)
The purpose of the Great Tribulation is two-fold. It's explained in the Jeremiah passage above, where it's called by its Old Testament name, the Time of Jacob's Trouble. God will use it to completely destroy the unbelieving nations who've all persecuted His people down through the ages and to discipline Israel, purifying them to dwell with Him in the Promised Land. The Church, having been purified at the cross, requires neither destruction nor discipline and has no business being in the Great Tribulation.
No matter where you place the Rapture in the End Times Scenario, if you believe in the Lord's all-sufficient work on the cross, then you know that the Church has to be protected from the End Times judgments, not purified by them. If you don't believe that the Lord's work was sufficient, but that the coming judgments are needed to finish what He only began, then you have much bigger problems than figuring out when the Rapture will occur.
The length of the Great Tribulation is variously given as 3 ½ years (Daniel 12:7), 42 months (Rev. 11:2), or 1260 days (Rev. 12:6). If you use a 12 month 30 day calendar for a total of 360 days in a year, these three measurements all turn out the same. This is one of the clues leading us to believe that Earth's original calendar consisted of 12 months of 30 days each, and in fact it appears that prior to about 700 BC all the Earth used such a calendar. (The calendar we use today is only about four hundred years old.)
In addition, Daniel 9:27 records that an Abomination That Causes Desolation will occur in the middle of the last seven years, or 3 ½ years from the end. In Matt. 24:21 Jesus identifies this event as the beginning of the Great Tribulation. Paul confirms this and adds detail by describing the anti-Christ standing in the Temple proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thes. 2:4) This is also further evidence of a Temple in Israel at the end of the age.
The Abomination That Causes Desolation is a particular defilement of the Temple that's happened only once before. In 168 BC. Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes captured the Temple and converted it into a pagan worship center. He erected a statue of Zeus with his own face on it in the Holy Place, thereby proclaiming himself to be God, demanding that the Jews worship it on pain of death. It was called the Abomination That Causes Desolation, the only event in history so named. It made the Temple unfit for use and triggered the 3 ½ year Maccabean Revolt. The Jewish re-capture and cleansing of the Temple is celebrated in the eight day Feast of Hanukkah.
So Daniel spoke of an Abomination That Causes Desolation that would mark the middle of the last 7 years. An event called the Abomination That Causes Desolation in 1st Maccabbees took place in 168 BC, over 300 years later. But 200 years after that, Jesus told His Disciples that the people of Israel should watch for a future Abomination That Causes Desolation that would kick off the Great Tribulation. Paul also described a future event similar to the one in 168BC saying the “Day of the Lord” could not precede it.
The Abomination That Causes Desolation that took place in 168 BC was a partial fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. We know this because other events surrounding it didn't unfold according to the prophecy. It took place so people in the end times would be able to recognize the complete fulfillment when they saw it. They'll know to look for a man standing in the Temple calling himself God and demanding that his image be worshipped. Jesus told those living in Judea (Israel) that when they see it to flee into hiding immediately, for the Great Tribulation will have begun.
4) The Purpose Of The Rapture They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thes. 1:9-10)
The Greek word translated from in the above passage is "apo." Literally it means to keep the subject (us) away from the time, place, or any relation to the event being referenced, in this case the coming wrath. This verse is one of several that explain the purpose of the Rapture of the Church, and that's to be hidden safely out of the way before God visits His wrath upon the Earth. OK, but when does God's wrath come?
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev 6:15-17)
After Revelation 3 the church is not seen on Earth again until we come back with the Lord in Chapter 19:14, as predicted in 18:14. In Revelation 4 John sees a door standing open in heaven and is told to "Come up here!" Instantly he finds himself in the spirit, standing before the throne of God at the end of the age. He's been transported to the time of the Rapture.
He sees 24 elders there, seated on thrones of their own around the throne of God. They're all dressed in white with crowns of gold on their heads. They bow down before the Lord and place their crowns at his feet giving honor and glory to him. In chapter 5 they call themselves Kings and Priests as they sing praises to God. By their titles, clothing, crowns, thrones, and activities it's clear that they represent the newly raptured church.
There are four Old Testament views of the Throne of God. Those in Isaiah 6:1-4 and Ezekiel 1 and 10 don't include these 24 elders. The one in Daniel 7:9-10, an end of the age vision, hints at multiple thrones but offers no detail. But in the Book of Revelation they're mentioned 12 times. Some group has arrived in Heaven that wasn't there in Old Testament times, and 12 is the number of government. It's the Church, come to rule and reign with Christ.
So the Church is raptured in chapter 4, and is shown in heaven in chapter 5, while on Earth God's wrath is loosed in chapter 6 as the passage above clearly states.
Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians was written in 51AD and contains the very first clear mention of a Rapture ever given. Neither Jesus nor the Disciples ever taught it. Its existence was kept secret until then just as its exact timing is secret to this day. Many of the mistakes made about the timing of the rapture come from futile attempts to find Gospel passages that teach it, as we'll see in our discussion about the Second Coming.
We think the Rapture is perhaps the single most important component of End Times prophecy, and for us it is. So why didn't Jesus ever mention it? 1 Cor. 2:6-10 gives us the answer. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The phrase "rulers of this age" refers to Satan & Co. Had they known the astonishing abundance of blessings the Lord would shower down upon those who accept His death as payment for their sins, they would have done everything in their power to prevent the crucifixion. Think of it. We're called Kings and Priests, given incalculable wealth and influence, made heirs with Christ of God's estate, something Satan could never achieve and we could never deserve, and it's all ours just because we believe. This realization came to Satan after it was too late to prevent it and turned what should have been his greatest victory into an agonizing defeat. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15)
But like everything in God's plan, you'll find hints of the Rapture even in the Old Testament. Look at this passage from Isaiah 26:19-21. But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins.
Notice how the pronouns change from second person when God speaks of His people to third person when He speaks of the people of the Earth. It means the two groups are different. One is told to hide because the other is going to be punished. (Note: the Hebrew word translated "go" in the phrase "Go my people" is translated "come" in some translations, recalling the command to John in Revelation 4, "Come up here!" But the word has another primary meaning and it's my favorite. It means vanish. "Vanish, my people!" Yes we will.)
Now read two of Paul's most popular Rapture disclosures. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thes 4:15-17)
Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. (1 Thes. 5:1-5) For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thes. 5:9)
Here's another even more dramatic shift of pronouns. Using the third person, Paul describes unbelievers caught by surprise, thinking they had entered a period of peace as destruction suddenly rains down upon them, cutting off all hope of escape. Then Paul switched to the second person, telling believers we shouldn't be taken by surprise as the End approaches, and finally to the first person as he includes us with him, not appointed to wrath.
Now watch carefully as we lay Isaiah's writings over Paul's. But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. (The dead in Christ will rise first.)
Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. (After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.)
See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. (While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.)
Although the Bible contains 66 books and involved 40 writers, there's one Author and His message is consistent from Genesis through Revelation. This is how Paul could open his passage on the rapture by saying, "According to the Lord's own word ...". The Lord never mentioned the rapture in the Gospels. Paul had read Isaiah.
Of course there are several more passages where our Lord promises to protect us from the coming judgments. And although the cynics can truthfully say that the word rapture doesn't appear in any of them, don't pay any attention to that. They're just trying to confuse us.
They know that rapture is a word of Latin origin, not Hebrew or Greek, the languages of the Bible. (The earliest translation of the Bible was into Latin, and the term rapture comes from there.) Its Greek equivalent is harpazo, which is found in the Greek text of 1 Thes. 4:15-17. When translated into English, both words mean "to be caught up, or snatched away." There's a similar situation with the word Lucifer, also of Latin origin. It doesn't appear in any of the original texts either, but no one would be naive enough to deny the existence of Satan on such a flimsy basis.
"Marriage is for white people." That's what Joy Jones was told when she was teaching a career exploration class for sixth-graders at an elementary school in the nation's capital. As a matter of fact, more than one student offered Jones this retort when she spoke of marriage and parenthood.
Joy Jones is author of Between Black Women: Listening with the Third Ear. In a recent article written for The Washington Post, Jones laments the decline of marriage among African Americans. It wasn't always this way, she insists.
"I grew up in a time when two-parent families were still the norm, in both black and white America," Jones explains. "Then, as an adult, I saw divorce become more commonplace, then almost a rite of passage. Today it would appear that many--particularly in the black community--have dispensed with marriage altogether."
This nation has been witnessing (and allowing) the undermining of its marriage culture. Throughout the culture, marriage is simply not respected or expected as it once was, and the cult of personal autonomy and the rise of postmodern worldviews have only accelerated this process. Still, the decline of marriage as an institution is not uniform across the culture. As the statistics clearly indicate, marriage is losing ground among African Americans more quickly than within the society at large.
Jones' experience at the Washington elementary school tells the story. A young black boy had expressed his belief that being a good father was a very important personal goal--"more meaningful than making money or having a fancy title." Jones was pleased with the boy's statement. "That's wonderful!," she told him. "I think I'll invite some couples in to talk about being married and rearing children."
"Oh, no," the student objected. "We're not interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers." Another boy quickly offered his own analysis, "speaking as if the words left a nasty taste in his mouth," Jones laments. "Marriage is for white people," he said.
Considering the context, that boy's statement is a tragedy in seven syllables. How could a young black boy come to the conclusion that marriage is only for white people?
In part, he is simply observing the reality. As Joy Jones confirms, the marriage rate for African Americans has been falling since the 1960s. At present, blacks have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States. According to the 2001 U. S. census data, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women have never been married. In contrast, only 27.4 percent of white men and 20.7 percent of white women have never been married.
Of all demographic groups, African American women are least likely ever to marry. While the marriage rate fell for all Americans by 17 percent in the thirty years between 1970 and 2001, the marriage rate for black Americans fell by 34 percent.
This has caught the attention of many observers. Howard University's Audrey Chapman has referred to African Americans as "the most uncoupled people in the country." Sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin points out that a black child was more likely to grow up with two parents during the days of slavery than he or she is today.
The reference to slavery is very instructive. Jones understands the argument that slavery and its lingering effects explain today's low marriage rate among African Americans. She rejects this with solid data. Indeed, she cites historian Eugene D. Genovesi, who sets the record straight. Genovesi, author of Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, points to the incredibly strong and even sacrificial commitment to marriage that most often characterized slave families. He tells of slaves who mutilated themselves and put themselves at risk, just in order to save their marriages and to continue raising their children.
"What has shifted in African American customs, in our community, in our consciousness, that has made marriage seem unnecessary or unattainable?" Jones asks.
Her argument is that the African American world has lost sight of normal marriage. Their world has been transformed by cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, divorce, and remarriage. "Sex, love and childbearing have become a la carte choices rather than a package deal that comes with marriage," she advises. "Moreover, in an era of brothers on the 'downlow,' the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the decline of the stable blue-collar jobs that black men used to hold, linking one's fate to a man makes marriage a risky business for a black woman."
Beyond this, Jones argues that African American women hold different expectations of marriage than African American men. "My observation is that black women in their twenties and early thirties want to marry and commit at a time when black men their age are more likely to enjoy playing the field. As the woman realizes that a good marriage may not be as possible or sustainable as she would like, her focus turns to having a baby, or possibly improving her job status, perhaps by returning to school or investing more energy in her career."
In other words, marriage just doesn't look like a very attractive proposition to women who have had to learn to make it on their own, and who are concerned that men really will not bring much to the marriage partnership anyway.
In an autobiographical passage, Joy Jones admits that this has been true for herself, as well as for others. She turned down a wedding proposal when it came quite late and when the man appeared to bring more problems from previous relationships than Jones was willing to accept.
"Most single black women over the age of 30 whom I know would not mind getting married, but acknowledge that the kind of man and the quality of marriage they would like to have may not be likely, and they are not desperate enough to simply accept any situation just to have a man," she explains. "A number of my married friends complain that taking care of their husbands feels like having an additional child to raise."
So why would a black woman get married? Jones argues that she marries when marriage is presented as more than a business alliance. "If it weren't for the intangibles, the allure of the lovey-dovey stuff, I wouldn't have gotten married," said one black woman. "The benefits of marriage are his character and his caring. If not for that, why bother?" That's a good question. The benefits of marriage extend to far more than character and caring, but marriage surely cannot demand less of a man as husband. The absence of character and caring, this woman is keen to suggest, reduces marriage to a matter of cost-benefit analysis.
From her analysis of the state of marriage among African Americans, Jones moves to the larger culture, pointing to what she calls "the new twist." It seems that the rest of America is following the lead of African Americans in this regard. "Often what happens in black America is a sign of what the rest of America can eventually expect," Jones asserts. She cites Andrew Hacker, author of Mismatch: The Growing Gulf Between Woman and Men, to the effect that "the structure of white families is evolving in the direction of that of black families of the 1960s." As Hacker's research indicates, "In 1960, 67 percent of black families were headed by a husband and wife, compared to 90.9 percent for whites. By 2000, the figure for white families had dropped to 79.8 percent. Births to unwed white mothers were 22.5 percent in 2001, compared to 2.3 percent in 1960." As Jones then observes: "So my student who thought marriage is for white people may have to rethink that in the future."
This kind of statistical analysis--with cold mathematical precision and veracity--tells only part of the story. Anyone who observes American society with care must notice that marriage is becoming more and more marginalized, both in terms of how it is conceived and in terms of how it is lived.
The acceptance of easy no-fault divorce, the delay of marriage far into adult years, the remarkable rise in rates of cohabitation, and the decline of marriage as a personal and social expectation all contribute to this phenomenon.
The recovery of a marriage culture demands the attention of all Americans, not just African Americans. Respect for marriage must be rebuilt group by group, couple by couple, and individual by individual. Young people must be shown that marriage is the covenant relationship that is conducive for human happiness, well being, and satisfaction and that it is the optimal context for the raising of children and for the sustenance of society.
In order for this to happen, couples of all ages, races, and ethnicities need to live out the fullness and fulfillment of marriage before the watching world. Christians have a special stake in this, because we understand that marriage is not only a social institution, but that is also the unique arena in which the glory of God is demonstrated in the holy relationship between the husband and his wife and in the proper ordering of the household as a testimony to the grace and goodness of God. Furthermore, we are the ones who know that we will give an answer for our responsibilities in marriage--and every single Christian has an important stake in this mission of recovering marriage. Above all, the church should be the one place where healthy marriages are nurtured, expected, supported, and lived out, not only before the congregation, but before the entire society.
Something has gone horribly wrong when a young black boy believes that marriage "is for white people." How long will it be before children his age wonder if marriage is for anyone at all?