Darby might have been the first to articulate the idea of the Rapture as a future event. But he was far from the last. In 1970, a Houston preacher named Hal Lindsey wrote The Late Great Planet Earth, which predicted that Armageddon would come to pass in the 1980s. The book sold 28 million copies by 1990, a year which Lindsey had seemed certain would never arrive.
Lindsey is still creaking around on TBN talking about prophecy, after a protracted absence brought about by a fight with founder Paul Crouch. Another prophecy show was on until this May, when its host, Grant Jeffrey, died. Jeffrey too sold DVDs and pamphlets about the end times, though his theories didn't age very well. Before his death, he was warning, for about 20 years, of a possible "Russian-Islamic" invasion of Israel.
But the biggest difference between Baxter and his predecessors — between Baxter and anyone else, really — is his claim to have found a reference to the United States in the Bible. This has always been a huge sticking point for many prophecy types, something they struggle to explain: If the book of Revelation accurately predicts both the conditions of our time and an imminent apocalypse, wouldn't it mention the U.S. in there somewhere?
Baxter believes he's found the answer. He describes it as his "first major breakthrough," which he discovered when he was 20 and working as a traveling evangelist with his wife, Judy. There are beasts described in Revelation that are widely believed to represent nations. Baxter noticed that one animal is a lion with eagle's wings. The lion, he concluded, represents England. The eagle's wings represent the United States. The wings are later "plucked" from the lion, Baxter points out, foretelling the Declaration of Independence.
It's all a little obscure for non-prophecy types, but for Baxter, it was a lightning bolt. At the time, he and Judy were holding a revival down in Louisiana. "When I saw these things, I went home to my wife and said, 'Babe, I think I found the United States in the Bible.' I found absolute proof. That became the first chapter of my first book."
That book was A Message to the President, which came out in 1986 and warned Ronald Reagan of the imminence of the end.
In Baxter's interpretation, after the massive war there'll be a climactic final battle, fought in Jerusalem between Jewish soldiers and the forces of the Antichrist. Just as the Jews are losing the fight, Baxter says, Jesus will return.
"All those Jews that have been fighting, they're going to rush out to him," Baxter says in his office, his voice hushed. "They're going to know their messiah's come to save them. They're going to bow before him. And Zachariah 13 says they'll notice these scars on his hands and feet, and they'll say, 'Messiah, where did you get your wounds?' And he will say, 'These are they that I received in the house of my friends.'"
The Jews will then realize the falseness of their doctrine, and understand that Jesus is the true messiah. "Two thousand years of Jewish blindness will come peeling off the Jewish mind," Baxter says. He wipes a hand before his eyes, to symbolize the scales falling away. At that point, he adds, the Jews will know to enroll in his own prophecy college, conveniently located right there in Jerusalem. They're still raising money to buy the building, but they hope it will be open "in the fall of next year."
Meanwhile, Baxter and the other faithful will have been Raptured.
"I'm back here behind them on my white horse watching all this happen," he says, miming the way he'll hold the celestial reigns.
This, too, is noteworthy. Baxter is teaching his audiences that the Rapture won't occur until after the enormous war. In other words, Christians will have to suffer through a period of terrible desolation down here with the sinners. This is not a popular or reassuring point of view. The massively successful Left Behind series, for example, is premised on the idea that believers will be air-lifted out before the really unpleasant stuff hits. Baxter seems to share a bit of tension with Left Behind author Tim LaHaye, whom he's faced off against in televised discussions.
He also displays mild contempt for Harold Camping, the Family Radio founder who infamously set two exact (and exactly wrong) dates for Judgment Day. "I listened to what he said," Baxter says dismissively. "I told everybody it wasn't going to happen. He's totally off in his theology."