Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's The End of The World...Again

I vividly remember being a teenager at a Christian high school when the new millennium was at hand over a dozen years ago.  We were in assembly and listened to one of the seniors play his guitar and sing for about an hour.  When he had finished, he spoke to us and confidently declared that the "rapture" was certainly near because many European nations were on the verge of switching to the Euro dollar as a currency.  Instantaneously, my veins coursed with adrenaline and all of my goals flashed before my eyes: college, career, marriage, fatherhood.  I was still two years from becoming a Christian, yet I still knew the horrifying tales of God's wrath that the schoolhouse prophecy experts would feed to their students.

Fast-forwarding to today, we are all still here.  Do you remember May 21, 2011?  That was another doomsday that never happened.  Harold Camping decided to double down on his failed 1994 prediction and also whiffed on this attempt.  We all (well, most of us) know that Camping is senile and out of his mind, so what's the problem?  We absolutely have to be able to correlate the fact that by spewing forth such foolishness, Christians are marginalized in the eyes of a society that badly needs a spiritual awakening.  It's not just Camping, but a plethora of false prophets have flooded the market with un-Biblical nonsense like the Left Behind series because anxious and gullible believers gobble them up at break-neck speed.

I spent the night of May 21, 2011, in Afghanistan.  I remember reading some of the most ridiculous stories, including one of a mother slitting the throats of her children to save them from the coming "tribulation".  As sorrowful last meals were shared across the world, I researched these supposed "last days".  What I found changed my worldview forever.  Before you tell me that my eschatological (eschatology: the study of the end of things, particularly the end of the world) views aren't a salvation issue and shouldn't be brought up, think again.  Many people who would be open to the church and the faith are pushed away by these sadistic and inaccurate views of the times we live in.  That, my friend, is a salvation issue.  Indeed, no one pushes more people away from the church than the church itself.  Other famous doomsday predictions include:

53 A.D.- Thessalonians fear they have missed the second coming.  Paul is prompted to write a second epistle to them.

400 A.D.- Through a series of calculations, Hippolytus predicts that there were still 200 years left.

968 A.D.- Otto's army is panicked by an eclipse that is thought of to be the end of the world.

994 A.D.- Famines and plagues in Saxony lead to last days paranoia.  The year 1000 is fast approaching and brings many predictions with it.

1033 A.D.- One thousand years since Christ's crucifixion- another numerical focal point for end times.

1420 A.D.- Taborites of Czechoslovakia predict that all the world's cities will be destroyed by fire in the near future.

1666 A.D.- Bubonic plague, the numbers 666, and the Great London Fire cause many British to believe the end is at hand.

1914 A.D.- Jehovah's Witnesses correlate the start of World War One to Biblical prophecy and Armageddon.

1988 A.D.- 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988.  I can give you 24 reasons, one for each year, why that book was a flop.

You can clearly see that humans have been busy predicting the end of this world for two millennia.  That was only a sample of the mine of data that could have been displayed.  Let me set the record straight: I do believe in the second coming of Christ; however, I do not believe in "end times" or any other series of events that leads to the second coming.  This point of view is known as preterism.  Preterists believe that most eschatological prophecies were fulfilled in the first century A.D.  Most people suffering from last days madness today, such as Joel Rosenberg, use not only Revelation to supplement their books, but also Daniel, Ezekiel, and Matthew 24.  Matthew 24 contains Christ's "Olivet Discourse":

"Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.  "Do you see all these things?" he asked.  "Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately.  "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you.  For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Messiah,' and will deceive many.  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.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains.  Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.  So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation', spoken of through the prophet Daniel- let the reader understand- then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house.  Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.  How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!  Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.  For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now- and never to be equaled again."- Matthew 24:1-20

The last days crowd gets excited every time a tsunami wipes out an entire city or country or when tensions flare up in the Middle East.  People are literally convinced that CNN and Fox News are carrying stories straight out of Revelation.  In all actuality, the Olivet Discourse is summed up quite simply when viewed through the lens of preterism.  In the paragraph above, Christ is referring to his coming in judgement.  Don't believe me?  Look at the history books.  In 70 A.D., the Roman Army, led by Titus, destroyed Jerusalem and sacked the Jewish temple.  This is the same Jewish temple that Jesus, forty years earlier, had marked for destruction (not one stone left on top of another).  Let's look at other key points, which I have set in bold:

many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Messiah' (v. 5)- Historical records indicate that Israel was full of magicians and sorcerers who claimed themselves to be divine and gave many signs to watchful crowds.  Eusebius, in 325 A.D., wrote of several men who led rebellions (particularly Theudas, who is mentioned in Acts 5) and claimed to be the Christ.

wars and rumors of wars; nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (v. 6-7)- Prior to 70 A.D. and the sacking of Jerusalem, four Roman caesars were violently killed within 18 months of one another.  Syria and Arabia nearly warred, but the death of Tiberius prevented this.  Bardanes and Volageses declared war against the Jews in this timeframe as well.

famines and earthquakes (v. 7)- Aside from the documented earthquakes in the Bible (Christ's death and the prison escape of Acts 16), we have historical documentation that five notable earthquakes took place between 46 A.D. and 62 A.D. in Crete, Rome, Apamaia, Laodicea, and Campania.

handed over to be persecuted and put to death (v. 9)- John was the only disciple to live out his days, yet even he was persecuted.  All of the others were martyred.  Additionally, Christians suffered greatly under Nero, who blamed them for starting a fire in Rome in 64 A.D.

gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the whole world (v. 14)- Read Paul's introductions to the Romans and Colossians and the descriptions of the spread of the Gospel (documented in Acts 2:5 and 17:6) and visualize what the perception of "the whole world" in those days was.

standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation' (v. 15)- Christ is referring to the Roman Army that is desolating the Jewish temple.  They are led by Titus.

Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!  Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. (v. 16, 19-20)- This is Christ's warning of the coming desolation and the "end of the age"- the Jewish age.  He said that they should pray for the attack to come on any day but the Sabbath because the city's gates would be closed on that day, which would prevent the escape of Jews from Jerusalem.  The cold of winter would impede a timely escape from the invading army.

The truth is written plainly in the Bible and is supported by history.  Why are so many church leaders still focusing on so-called "end times" when we still have a "current time" to make a difference?  Well, what do you expect from a culture that doesn't understand either ancient or modern American and world history?  The last days craze doesn't stop at Matthew 24.  It goes on to Revelation, where people relate corrupt politicians to a frightening beast who will rise to power and destroy Christians all over the world.  Did you know that the word "antichrist" is found in only four Biblical passages, but not even once in Revelation?  John uses it only in his other writings to describe those who oppose the Gospel.  Joel Rosenberg exploits Old Testament texts from Ezekiel 38-39 to imply that Russia and Iran will conspire to attack Israel, with whom God broke ties to in 70 A.D., in these "last days".  Apparently the word rosh is supposed to mean "Russia" in many eschatological circles- this is how Russia has been unfairly depicted as the typical end-times bad guy for years, even though Ezekiel was likely discussing events that are documented in Esther 9, five centuries before Christ.  I would be interested to see what kind of home he lives in or what type of car he drives, because he is obviously raking in the money from people who would rather stand by idly as society goes to hell instead of getting involved in building communities and helping people in these "current times".  Will he admit that he's a false prophet when his latest conspiracy falls through?

I'm getting long-winded here, so I'll get to the moral of the story.  How can we, as a faith, expect to impact peoples' lives when a large segment of our people spread stories of horrors to come, chaos, and general negativity?  How can our country recover when the true agents of change, Christians, chalk up the failure of the United States to prophetic inevitability?  Nearly all who follow Christian eschatology hold a negative outlook of the future.  Why should we bother marrying, having children, pursuing careers, voting, or even getting up in the morning if everything is all bound for failure?  Furthermore, why would any non-believer want to join such a miserable and brooding group of people?

"Where there is no vision, the people perish..."- Proverbs 29:18

Why did Christopher Columbus sail the ocean blue in a day where the Czechs had already predicted the impending doom of mankind?  Why did our founding fathers go ahead with the rebellion against England and the Constitution if the collapse of America and all other icons of Christendom were guaranteed by Scripture?  This truly is a situation where Scripture isn't even needed to solve the argument.  Contemporary Christian eschatology defies logic.  You don't need Scripture to understand that there is something bigger than you, me, and the rest of the universe out there- God.  You don't need Scripture to understand that pigs on a farm and their inborn ability to select a partner of the opposite sex supports natural sexuality and throws out any idea of homosexuality being a normal way to continue humanity.

We will never recover our nation as we know and love it if Christians don't play a part in it.  I firmly believe that God wants to bless us and will bless us, but only if Christians quit watching American Idol and get busy in the "current times."  The way we view our world determines how we behave.  Instead of subscribing to the same negative drivel about how we will soon be stamped with a "666" emblem or be killed, or how we are doomed to failure, turn to Acts 2:34-35:

"The Lord said to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."

Is your glass half-full or half-empty?  I believe Christ will return when his enemies are put down by His people.  Call me idealistic, but I envision a world one day that is sold out for Christianity.  Not just in the United States, but throughout the world.  We have more Christians here than anywhere else on Earth, so why don't we get busy throwing out evils in our society that are tolerated by a corrupt government so we can advance the kingdom (thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven- sound familiar?). When we throw off our own self-imposed chains, we will again be unstoppable.  We must offer life to the world, not gloom, doom, misery, and unavoidable defeat.  Just as the Jews wandered for forty years, so we will wander until our minds are right for the true mission: bringing the world under the obedience of Christ.

The victory of the Gospel in history is inevitable.  Will you play a role?

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