God called Mike Bickle at a very young age to help “change the face of Christianity in one generation.” And there is no doubt that the fruit on his life has been tremendous. First, he was the pastor of the Kansas City Prophets which reintroduced the prophetic to the global church, then was a major voice introducing the love of God to the body through Passion for Jesus, and then he launched the IHOP movement which has made around the clock prayer a normal thing all over the world. Most people consider themselves a wild success if they can be a part of launching one movement in a lifetime.
Furthermore, over more than 40 years of ministry, Mike has kept his nose clean, and famously demonstrated charity to another major leader who attacked him at the height of his success. It’s important to me that what I have to say below be taken in the context of the immense respect I have for Mike Bickle and how the Lord has used his obedience, as well as my dear friends at IHOP, and the debt I owe personally to their pioneering work.
End Time Shift
Around the Mike launched the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (IHOPKC), Mike shifted from intimacy and the prophetic an increasing focus on the end times and started teaching on what he calls “Apostolic Premillennialism.” Rather than just one of many doctrines, it became the focus of everything they are doing. Trying to understand this shift is one of the reasons I wrote Cracking the End Time Code I personally remember attending a OneThing in 2015 where basically every session Mike taught was details about the end. While Mike had previously been known for the prophetic and especially intimacy with God, now he seemed to focus on eschatology at the expense of everything else. It felt like Passion for Jesus had been replaced with passion for Revelation.
Without getting into too much detail, premillennialism basically interprets Revelation 20 to mean that Jesus will come at the end of the age and set up an earthly kingdom, which He will rule with the saints for a thousand years (“the millennium”). Before that, the world will get worse and worse and an Antichrist figure will rise.
The version that most American Christians are familiar with is dispensationalism, which teaches that that believers will be raptured before the Great Tribulation. Mike distinguishes Apostolic Premillennialism from other forms of premillennialism by its greater optimism – instead of saying that Christians will be raptured, and then the world will go to hell in a handbasket, he teaches that Christians will stick around through the end of the Tribulation, and that the Church will shine brighter and brighter even as the world grows darker and darker.
However, Apostolic Premillennialism suffers from the same problems as all premillennial systems. The first of these is “double vision.” The idea of a future millennium of physical dominion followed by the devil creates a duplication of history and strange problems:
- The millennium is a time when believers rule under Christ following His Second Coming, but then there are the other unbelievers… what are they doing, and where did they come from?
- The devil has been defeated at the Cross, he is defeated again at the Second Coming, and then yet again at the end of the millennium.
- There are two final judgments: once at the Second Coming and again at the end of the millennium.
- The premillennial schema, whether Apostolic or not, is a terribly convoluted interpretation of the prophecies of Revelation. Part of the appeal of premillennialism is its “literal” reading of the thousand years in Revelation 20, but everywhere else in Scripture, “a thousand years” is always a figurative term. Nowhere is “a thousand years” ever used as an expression of concrete, historical time.
Paradoxically, the over-literal interpretation of Revelation leads to an over-spiritualization of the Christian life, where only the spiritual matters, and the natural is ignored. Now that I live in Kansas City, I see the fall-out of this kind of viewpoint. People become so focused on ushering in the end times with prayer, fasting, and worship, that they neglect to develop practical skills or a life plan. They become unbalanced and I have seen lives fall apart or struggle because of this imbalance.
Whenever the church attaches “end times” to our mission, things can get a bit heady. We end up denigrating the seemingly mundane task of building for the future while we focus on the exhilarating Spiritual pursuits. Further more, we can find ourselves caught in fear-based speculation over current events, as we eagerly look for the eschatological timeline. This was exactly what happened with Y2K, which IHOP was all-in with, and turned out to be a bust.
This kind of thinking leads us to miss the opportunity to the direction of the larger society around us. The fact that IHOP has a liquor store on either side of it is to me a visible representation of this mindset. We can safely assume that in the last 20 years there they have prayed for change, but if they had a more present-oriented view, they would have, like the pastor I know in Florida, changed that little part of town through direct physical action.
Apostolic Premillennialism rightly fuels and emphasizes the importance of prayer and intimacy with God, and fuels this idea with end-time urgency, but you can only live on an end-time high for so long. We need lifestyles of prayer that can last throughout our lives. When I was growing up we were told we were the Joshua generation, but now that I’m getting older that seems a little silly. Premillennialism has encouraged every generation in the last 120 years to think that they are the last and final, super-significant generation. I want to be the Joshua generation, but I’m fine with being the Moses generation too. Or even the Abraham generation. I plan on reforming the church and proclaiming the truth to my death bed teaching my sons to do likewise.
I helped Daniel Falls publish his book The Life and Legacy of Pat Bickle and a History of the Kansas City Prophets. In that book, Danny brings to the surface many details not previously known to the wider public. One of those is that Mike was greatly influenced by reading Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, when he was younger. To me, this gives some continuity… Intentionally or not, Mike fused the dire end times scenario of premillennialism that was popular in mainstream Christianity with the with the Latter Rain vision of a glorious end time church that the Prophets Paul Cain and Bob Jones brought.
To me, IHOP’s hard turn towards premillennialism also echoes the turn made by Pentecostalism, when dispensationalism took hold and the power of God waned. Furthermore, John Alexander Dowie and William Branham’s were two incredibly significant figures in Sprit-filled history who got derailed by premillennial thinking. Believing that they were Elijah’s fore-running the Second Coming. R.A. Torrey was another great giant whose later years were lesser than the first because he embraced premillennialism, or at least so thought John G. Lake.
An Amillennial Alternative
Sam Storms, a prominent pastor and theologian, who was closely connected with Mike in the 90s ultimately parted ways with IHOP in part because he could not be aligned with their eschatology. He has since written an excellent book on the amillennial alternative called Kingdom Come. Like Sam, the end times position I take is amillennialism, or present millennialism.
The millennium is now, and Jesus is currently reigning through us. We are expanding His rule until He returns. Not only does this eschatology fit much better with the symbolic nature of the book of Revelation, but it is also much more optimistic and present-oriented in practice. The application of Revelation is not later, it’s now.
Mike is right that the end times church will be a glorious church, but it can and should be more continuous with the church throughout history than an end time aberration. By realizing that God’s Kingdom is now, and not of this world, but breaking into change this world, we can better participate in how God wants to transform society. Instead of waiting and praying for some future revival, we can be acting to bring God’s nature into every place and institution we touch – politics, law, media, science, and education.
This is not a fantasy—this is what the church has done for the last 2000 years. We should take a long-view of history knowing that Jesus’ First Coming has already established the beachhead of the Kingdom. Now our role is to expand it until it becomes “a great mountain that fills the whole earth.” If you would like to read more about eschatology, and its implications for how we should live today, you may want to read my book Cracking the End Time Code.