Honestly, I hate writing about the apocalypse, but more-so, I hate reading people’s interpretations about it, not because I even think many people are right or wrong, but because the Bible doesn’t actually give us a lot of information about it. It’s probably accurate to say that Christians have just enough information to be dangerous, in terms of leading people/followers astray.
Our most recent example, plastered all over the media, is Harold Camping. There are a lot of Christians that categorize him as either a Prophet or a False-Prophet, but I’m inclined to place him a misguided leader. To clarify my stance, a prophet is someone who speaks the words of God – this can be either future, present, or past words of God – and declares it as God’s word. Therefore, a false-prophet is someone who claims to have heard from God but contradicts God’s word or simply lies. Harold Camping, to the most of my knowledge, claims that he discovered some sort of numerical system and formula that can predict a biblical rapture and the destruction of the world. He predicted May 21, 2011 as being the rapture, which of course did not seem to happen, so then he states that the events of May 21, 2011 were actually spiritual, and even more alarming that during that time, God finished all of His judgement and salvation of people. Also, during this time, Harold Camping and his wife took refuge in a motel, and now have their radio station simply playing Christian music, since they believe there is no point in trying to warn people, or share the love of Christ with anyone.
Well, if you have ever picked up a Bible and did any sort of studying, you’d find that there seems to be a lack of Biblical support for any prediction Harold Camping has made, and even more, his reaction when May 21 came and passed. Most people want to throw in the Matthew 24 verses, and say, “You see, Jesus said even He didn’t know when He’d return!” I would have to say that Jesus would know best, so I’m just going to have to agree to those verses. So, here is a list of apocalypse ideas that are in the Bible, and what the Bible says about them, in no particular order:
This whole idea sprung up in the 17th century. To put this in perspective, this became an actual doctrine over 1,000 years after Jesus’ ascension. Early theologians, who established what was heresy and not (through prayer and fasting, communing with God, I’d hope), didn’t even know of it’s existence. That just seems kind of weird, but let’s go on. Next, this doctrine is based primarily on two disconnected pieces of of the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 seems to be implying that all people who believe in the Christian God will be taken into the clouds. The first thing I’d say to that is, “This chunk of scripture isn’t talking about a rapture, but affirming the resurrection.” Now, you might disagree, because the rapture may have been ingrained in your thinking, but look at the context. Paul is answering a question (probably from a letter that was sent from the Thessalonian church) about whether or not the people who have died after converting to “The Way” (the early term for Christianity) have been saved, since Jesus said that the generation He spoke to would not pass in Matthew 24. There was apparent concern, but Paul seems to answer that we still see a physical death, but like Christ, we will be resurrected, so we have no fear of death. “Oh,” you say, “well what was Jesus talking about in Matthew 24, another scripture that you’ve been quoting?” Yup, Jesus is talking about where two people are working diligently in a field, one may be taken and the other left, He will becoming in the sky with Glory and Power, and even gathering together all people who believe in Him with angels, but we come to a snag with most people when it talks about “from one end of the sky to another.” Grammatically, this could be referring to the sheer number of angels, or people being in the sky. We don’t have enough information. Does Paul give us any more information? He certainly seems to indicate that people who are resurrected will be in the “lower atmosphere” (literal translation of the term clouds from the Greek in 1 Thessalonians 4:17), but we’re still lacking in information. Was this some sort of common phrase/figure of speech? Is “in the clouds” actually just referring to heaven? We don’t know. Can we take educated guesses? Of course! Should we teach it as Biblical truth? No, this is absurd.
New Heaven and New Earth
There are two mainstream beliefs about this; either all “tainted-by-sin” pieces of creation are destroyed and rebuilt perfect, or all impurities are burned away and nothing has to be rebuilt. Fortunately, we have a number of verses that we can pull from. Probably the most important verse is one that is often over-looked is Genesis 8:21-22. To summarize, God says, or we could even say promises, never to destroy every living thing, but also adds at the end that this is while the Earth still remains. So, we seem to have a bit of a paradox, so we’ll have to rely on some other scriptures to clarify whether or not the Earth will be destroyed. The next set of verses to examine would be Isaiah 65:17-25, which can have a few interpretations. First, it should be noted that after verse 17, there is no description about how the “new heavens” are going to be created, and to add in some more holes in our information, heavens could mean either the expanse where God dwells, or our sky and outer-space. Of course, we could also take the interpretation that the sky and outer-space is actually the same as the heaven where God dwells, and that is something I leave up to you, because again, we have a lack of information. We could next jump to Revelation 21, and get even more obscurities, with the only new piece of information being that God will dwell among us in the tabernacle. Now, do we read Revelation 21 as a dream that still requires interpretation, are there figures of speech and implications beyond the surface of the text? I’m hesitant to connect things from John’s Revelation to other pieces of scripture because there are various interpretations available. So, we are left with a lot of questions, and not a whole lot of definitive answers.
Israel Still Plays an Important Role Outside of Christianity
A lot of Christian groups believe that the nation of Israel plays an important role in prophesy, separate from the Christian community in general. This is formally called Dispensationalism. With this information, I need to make sure you understand that there is a difference between the State of Israel, and the Nation of Israel. The nation are descendants from Jacob, and the State is the land that was established in 1948. The people living in the state may or may not be a part of the nation, so please do not use these terms State and Nation of Israel interchangeably! Here is my take on the difference, and you can agree or disagree: The Nation of Israel is spiritual – it’s a title attributed to descendants of Jacob, either in blood or spirit. The State of Israel, however, is the place that was established by Zionist governments in attempts to spur on biblical prophesy. Now, the Bible discredits dispensation in two places, but can be inferred by other pieces of scripture. First, we could go to Acts 10, where we have to dreams, one from Cornelius (a gentile) and one from Peter (the disciple of Jesus, who is also a Jew), and we read that Peter begins preaching and teaching to gentiles. Well, how is this important, you may ask. Well, for starters, it is the first instance (outside of Jesus and the woman at the well) that a group of gentiles receive the gospel, and a barrier between the Jews and Gentiles is on the verge of breaking down. Later, Paul becomes central on the scene for sharing the gospel with the gentile nations. You may be thinking,”But didn’t Paul preach first to Jewish people, then to the Gentiles?” Yes, this is completely true, according to his own words in a few different contexts (read most of Romans for that, but you could focus on Romans 1 and 2).
You may also bring to point that Jesus’ mission was for the lost sheep of Israel. Well, if you’re even inclined to bring that up, then I would encourage you to read it in context. Jesus’ ministry was for the house of Israel; for people who had faith like Jacob! Jesus saw the faith, and He was immediately able to heal the woman’s daughter, without ignoring the context of His ministry.
I know that this is a touchy subject for most Christians, so if there are any questions or comments on this section, please let me know and I’ll try and address them as quickly as possible.
If you have any other scriptures you’d like me to examine for any of these topics, please post a polite comment, and I’ll check it out in both Greek and English and tell you what I find.
Thanks for reading!