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Are We Living in the End Times?

A Very Brief Understanding of Biblical Prophecy

Yesterday there was an unprecedented 4.8 earthquake in New York City.

Monday there is a solar eclipse.

Some of have determined that must mean...the end of the world is at hand.

If I had a quarter (hey, inflation) for every time a disaster or celestial event sparked the doomsday alarmists, I'd be... richer than I am now at any rate.

But seriously. How should we understand such events? After all, didn't Jesus warn: "For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs." (Matthew 24:7-8)?

Well, yeah. He did. But first of all, what's Jesus describing that isn't common to, well, just about any time in history? Also: beginning of birth pangs does not mean birth is happening RIGHT NOW. Birth pangs could be in labor for a REALLY long time. One of my best friends went through 55 hours of labor before they did a c-section on her. Birth pangs simply mean...just the beginning.

So, okay, the world has been in labor for like the past two thousand years getting ready to birth a new creation.

Here's the reality of what I know: we are one day closer to the end than we were yesterday.

Because we are hardly the first generation that has thought we were living in the end times. Welcome to a long history of Christians who have thought everything was lining up just exactly the way Revelation said it would for the past two thousand years. In fact, Martin Luther thought Revelation was playing out in his own day. And why wouldn’t he have? He was being actively persecuted by Rome by what he thought was an “anti-Christ” pope, the Black Death had claimed nearly 30 to 50 percent of the entire population of Europe (between 75 and 200 million people died due to the Bubonic plague.) There were lots of “wars and rumors of wars,” between the Turkish invaders on the Roman Empire’s borders, to the Peasant’s Revolt. It was a time of religious, socio-political and economic upheaval as Europe went through massive societal changes.

Then again, those around the turn of the first millennia had end-times hysteria as well as Europe descended into the “dark ages.”

Lest we forget, the original audience of John’s Apocalypse also thought that Revelation was speaking into their own day and time. That Jesus’ return was imminent and given the letter was actually written TO THEM, they naturally assumed this.

And here’s the reality: they were all right, and they were all wrong. Revelation absolutely was speaking, and is speaking, into both their day and time as well as our day and time.

How is that possible? Well, Revelation tells the story of a “timeless truth.” The reason so many different generations resonate with the events in Revelation is because it’s addressing issues that are pretty common to our world, no matter what era of history you are living in.

Revelation (which is simply the English translation of the Greek word “apokalypsos” meaning “to reveal”) was written in the late first century, maybe even into the early second century. It was given to a group of seven Christian churches that were facing a variety of problems. Some were being actively persecuted, some were compromising in the face of difficulties, and some were just becoming complacent and apathetic. Things were “too good” and they were too well off, and that led to a “lukewarm” faith wherein they were neither providing healing nor vitality.

So John’s letter to them served a few different functions: it was meant to give hope to those who were being persecuted, and was meant to disturb those who were compromising or being complacent in their faith.

Obviously, these are pretty common issues to the church throughout its history. So both the words of edification and words of warning would hit home for any church in any time.

It continually asks the question: Who do you belong to? The Lamb, or the Beast? Which ways are you following? Beastly ways, or the ways of the lamb who was slain?

I find the best way to understand and read Revelation is to view it as the story of God’s people being told over and over again. Revelation takes us through this story of how God deals with the problem of a sinful humanity that wages war on itself, through the Exodus, the prophets, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the final culmination of God's reign on earth. It’s not a coincidence that there’s a lot of plague/Exodus imagery going on in Revelation. Because Revelation doesn't just tell us this story once: it cycles through the story from different angles and perspectives over and over. It challenged the churches of the first century, it challenges us today. Challenged them by calling them out of the oppressive systems they were mired in.

I know over the past 35 years through my intense study of Revelation—a journey that has taken me through the fearful elements of the “Left Behind” rapture theology that jumps through all kinds of scriptural twists and turns to achieve an action/adventure script—to actually opening up the rest of scripture for me, strengthening my faith and understanding of how God has operated throughout history. It truly is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” because it is a portrayal of how we understand Christ as being at the center of all time and history. It is an unfolding revelation of who and what God is through Jesus Christ. Not in a linear aspect where we put Him on a timeline, but more like as the center of a wheel where everything else revolves around Him.

One of the ways that has always helped me understand Revelation is to think of it telling the story similar to the way “Pulp Fiction” tells its story…how all these different people and elements tend to overlap and interact, but you’re getting it told from a different perspective each time. Honestly, Revelation could end in Chapter 11, but Chapter 12 starts back at the beginning of the story of Jesus, with the woman giving birth and fleeing the dragon. That’s when we hear more about the beast and the false prophet, the harlot, etc.

All of those images of course represent threats and dangers that exist in our lives. “Beastly” oppressive systems. “Harlots” of that system that look alluring and seductive, but are actually nothing more than a cheap prostitute. How the beastly systems even eventually turn on its own allies and devours them—because evil is self-destructive (it just unfortunately has a lot of collateral damage in the process).

Obviously there’s a lot to unpack in Revelation (I’ve got a good study on that, btw — and this post isn’t meant to go through every symbol and nuance, but just to serve as a reminder that Revelation was never meant to be a “roadmap” to a series of events 2000 years in the future. It was meant to give comfort and edification to those suffering in the first/second century, and to serve as a warning to those who were compromising and getting complacent. Warnings that are still relevant today.

Not all prophecy is about “fortune telling” but is rather about “truth telling,” and Revelation follows in the tradition of the prophets from the Hebrew Scriptures who were giving warnings to the people in their societies…not because destruction was necessarily inevitable, but to serve as a warning for how to AVOID that destruction. Revelation is telling the truth about a situation. It’s is “revealing” the true nature of all the things that influence us in our world and is drawing stark contrasts…not because it’s so easy to see them for what they are, but precisely because it’s so DIFFICULT to see them for what they are.

The question in our day and time is: will we, as Christians, heed the warnings Revelation has given us? Will we recognize where in our lives and our world we are compromising with evil and oppressive forces? Will we recognize where we are being seduced by things that look good on the outside, but are rotten at their core? Will we fight against systems that oppress others? Will we serve and take care of our neighbor?

Or will we see the Empire dressed up in Christian garb and be deceived by how it looks on the outside, not realizing it speaks more like the dragon than the lamb who was slain?

How will we answer the question: Who do you REALLY belong to?

That's the question you should concern yourself with today, tomorrow, and every day until Jesus does return.

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1 commentaire

07 avr.

Well done!

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