01 October 2015

The comic book End Times. (Part 4.)

Trumpets, helicopters, Armageddon, Babylon. Just another day in the End Times.

More on the fearful future within the Christian comic book There’s a New World Coming, by Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley.
Other parts: 1235

There are two ways people respond to my critique of John Nelson Darby’s beliefs about premillennial dispensationalism and the End Times. And it depends on whether they’ve utterly swallowed Darbyism. Some folks have just casually accepted Darby’s beliefs—“Hmm, that sounds reasonable; guess I’ll believe that till I hear a better explanation.” Sometimes they think my explanation is that better explanation, and sometimes they don’t. It’s okay; End Times views aren’t make-or-break doctrines. We’re free to disagree. (Just please, if you’re gonna quote bible at me, quote it in context.)

Then there’s the other camp. They’ve not only embraced Darby: His teachings are foundational to the way they live their lives. They’ve invested a lot of time in their Scofield bibles. They’ve put a lot of money into Darbyist commentaries, Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye books, “prophecy conferences,” expensive classes, and full college educations at credited or unaccredited schools. They believe America should isolate itself, so as not to get us sucked into the 10-kingdom nation of Antichrist. They believe the state of Israel’s enemies (more accurately, the Likkud Party’s enemies) are their enemies. They’re against any Middle Eastern peace initiative, for fear it’s fake peace. And any identification technology, for fear it’s the Beast’s mark. And any multi-denominational movement, for fear it’ll lead to the one-world religion. And any other End Times view than Darbyism isn’t just dismissed as “your opinion, and up for debate”: It’s heresy. You’re not just going to hell for it: Jesus will leave you behind in the rapture. (Somehow that’s worse.)

Much as I consider Darbyism to be problematic, and fruit of a poisonous tree, you’re not going to hell if you believe it. God’s grace is greater than any bad idea. I’m only trying to warn people away from the bad idea. It’s like when a friend asked me whether it’s okay for Christians to smoke. It’s not okay for humans to smoke, no matter what you’re smoking: Awful for your lungs and heart, not wise, can’t recommend it. But is it apostasy? Heresy? Do all smokers go to hell? Of course not. Your eternal life’s not at stake. Smoking’s just a really bad idea, with awful earthly consequences, so maybe we can avoid a lot of heartbreak with a little corrective thinking. Same deal with Darbyism.

Okay. Glad we cleared that up.

The seven trumpets.

The next vision of Revelation, after the seven-sealed scroll of history, is the seven trumpet blasts. They represent all the plagues and natural disasters throughout Christian history. Darbyists believe they only take place during the last 42 months of the seven-year tribulation, so they’re either happening all at once (which is why Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley frappé them all together in There’s a New World Coming) or in sequence, depending on who’s writing the End Times book.

In Revelation, they’re triggered by the prayers of the saints—which an angel mixes with incense, lights, and throws on the earth. Rv 8.3-5 It represents the prayers of suffering Christians, who want God to do something to stop the things which plague us. So he does. The seven angels blow their trumpets, and disasters happen.

In the comic book, it’s not triggered by prayer, but by the Joint Chiefs.

Pouring out a bowl of nuclear wrath. TNWC 18

All of Revelation’s natural disasters, in Lindsey’s mind, are the product of nuclear strikes and nuclear fallout. He’s convinced (then-)current events fulfill Revelation perfectly. When scientists say nuking one another is gonna ruin the environment, he responds, “Just like Revelation predicted 2,000 years ago!” and his little heart leaps. Isn’t it nice to know the stuff that was scaring the living hell out of Americans and Russians 40 years ago, gave him such hope? Plus major book sales.

Other Darbyists are pretty sure God, not nuclear fallout and modern military technology, will cause these disasters. So here’s what each trumpet does:

  1. Hail and fire; a third of the earth burns up. Rv 8.7

Wait, didn’t God forbid killing innocent trees? Dt 20.19-20 TNWC 19
  1. A mountain falls into the sea; a third of the sea life and ships are destroyed. Rv 8.8-9

Add this to our current problem of overfishing. TNWC 19
  1. A star falls from the sky, poisoning a third of Earth’s rivers, killing many. Rv 8.10-11

You mean a hydrogen bomb, not a star. TNWC 19
  1. A third of the sun, moon, and stars are blacked out, as are a third of the day and night. Rv 8.12

Gives her hives just thinking about it. TNWC 20
  1. A star releases super-locusts from the Abyss, which torture humanity. Rv 9.1-11

Just edit out all the not-so-helicopter-y parts. TNWC 23
  1. 200 million super-horses kill a third of humanity. Rv 9.13-19

Lindsey assumes these horses are ground forces. TNWC 24
  1. The second coming of Christ Jesus. Rv 11.15-19

Wait, the second coming? Yep.

Wait, again? Didn’t I previously say the second coming took place in Revelation 6.12-17? Yes I did. Once again, I gotta remind you Revelation doesn’t take place in chronological order. It’s in cycles. The scroll was one cycle. The trumpets are another.

Because Darbyists are futurists, they think all these divine judgments happen during the tribulation, not spaced during the past 20 centuries of Christian history. They really think God’s laying it on thick, to punish the pagans. And they get the totally wrong idea of God, who’s slow to anger, Ex 34.6 who’s more likely to hold off his wrath when there’s even a fraction of the population worth saving. Ge 18.32 People do tend to get that idea when they read the Old Testament prophets, ’cause they assume a dozen prophecies are about a dozen or more different disasters—not a dozen statements foretelling the very same crisis. When we’re pessimistic and negative, we interpret God as if he’s the very same sort of negative pessimist. We remake him in our image.

That’s what Hal Lindsey did in spades. He was fearful of the Cold War, so as you noticed, he turned the End Times into a Cold War showdown. The Soviet Union and the United States aren’t anywhere in any End Times prophecies (unless you count those blanket statements about “the whole world,” ’cause yeah, we’re part of the world). Yet during the Cold War, Lindsey and many an End Times prognosticator reimagined them as major players in the End, simply because they were major players then. And once the Cold War was over, the United States stayed in their new improved End Times scenarios, but they had the darnedest time finding new antagonists. Usually they kept Russia in there just for nostalgia’s sake.

Hence Lindsey’s book is all about the Cold War, H-bombs, and the 1970s excesses in America of drugs and free love. It’s using the End Times as an excuse to criticize the present times.

The giant whore.

To be fair, God is totally crapping on them. TNWC 20

Oddly, even though Lindsey’s End Times Timeline (do I need to show it again today? Nah) treats Revelation as though the entire book is in chronological order, There’s a New World Coming keeps bouncing around the End Times Timeline like a ferret on cocaine. As the angels are blowing their trumpets, the comic book bounces around to other popular End Times topics. The occult, fr’instance.

In part this is because neo-Paganism was revived in the mid-1960s, and had a huge revival in the 1970s. Mainly the Wiccans, neo-druids, neo-shamans, neo-polytheists, the Church of All Worlds. The Church of Satan was also founded in 1966—and quickly split into a bunch of smaller Satanist churches. To a large degree, these religions were founded, and are followed, as a backlash against legalist, authoritarian Christianity. They go out of their way to be lawless and leaderless. (And their practitioners often go out of their way to deliberately annoy Christians, and get us to leave ’em alone.) Of course, among Christians who know nothing about how these groups work… it worked. They’re still mighty freaked out. Some Evangelicals are so bothered by anything remotely occult-like, they won’t even celebrate Halloween anymore. Pity. The church Halloween parties I grew up going to were kinda fun.

Anyway. In the Old Testament, occult religions, or pagan religions, were regularly associated with adultery. ’Cause if you worshiped another god than the LORD, you were cheating on him. Sometimes literally: A lot of ancient pagan religions included ritual sexual activity. (A lot of new pagan religions do too.) Hosea is a particularly poignant example: God had him marry a whore, Ho 1.2 who cheated on him in the very same way Israel cheated on the LORD with other gods. Ho 3.1 Ezekiel got downright nasty in comparing Samaria and Jerusalem with whorish sisters. Ek 23

So when one of Revelation’s angels points out to John a “giant whore sitting on many waters,” Rv 17.1 a lot of Christians assume this vision isn’t necessarily of a literal prostitute, who got fabulously wealthy by banging a lot of world leaders. They figure she’s the embodiment of all the idolatry practiced in the Old Testament—and of course all the idolatry practiced during the End Times. Pagan gods, spiritual practices, occult religions—anything and everything which Christians find disturbing. She’s often called the whore of Babylon, but that’s incorrect. “Babylon” is her name.

Whatever creeps you out, she’s into it. TNWC 21

And now we know what Al Hartley had in mind whenever he imagined whores: Blondes in fishnets.

Darbyists believe she’s the one-world religion they’re so nervous about: Supposedly during the tribulation, someone will take the Christian ecumenical movement, include a whole bunch of other religions into it, and create a tolerant spiritual jambalaya which’ll sorta include all gods and philosophies and practices. You know, like Hinduism. Only not Hinduism. And that’s what Babylon represents: The one-world religion.

In John’s vision, Babylon rides a seven-headed 10-horned red beast. Rv 17.3 Since “the Antichrist” is also seven-headed and 10-horned, Darbyists think it’s the very same beast. Babylon rides him. But this beast hates her, and according to the angel it’ll devour her. Rv 17.16 So Darbyists interpret that to mean the Antichrist will eventually bump off this one-world religion. After all, if Antichrist is trying to get people to think he’s Christ, eventually he’ll wanna get worshiped, so screw Babylon. (No pun intended.)

Just like Christians and our own politicians. TNWC 22

Okay. While a number of people, Darbyists included, agree with Hal Lindsey that Babylon represents pagan religion, a few of us bother to read Revelation and discover the angel told John who Babylon was: “The woman whom you saw is the great city, which has authority over the earth’s kingdoms.” Rv 17.18 KWL Now, in the first-century Roman Empire, which city wielded power over the earth’s kingdoms? Hmm. That’s a mystery.

…Okay, no it isn’t. Babylon is Rome. Duh. Rome famously sits on seven hills; Babylon also sits on seven hills. Rv 17.9 And throughout Christian history, anybody who had a beef with the Vatican, or Roman Catholics in general, has regularly accused Babylon of being that particular district of Rome. She’s not a mystery religion, they claim; she’s the corrupt Church of Rome, and God’s displeased with her. More accurately they’re displeased with her, and just like Lindsey they’re reading all their favorite bugaboos into John’s visions.

But Babylon isn’t about pagan religions, occult religions, corrupt Christians, Catholics, or any of those things. It is about religion, though. The religion of the United States’ true god.

For when Babylon falls, another angel sings a great big song about all the rotten things Babylon did and why she deserves to have fallen. Rv 18 Yeah one of the verses points out she was indeed a haven for demons and unclean spirits. Rv 18.2 But most of the verses point out Babylon was about luxury. Wealth. Comfort. Materialism. Trade. Unrestricted capitalism. You know, Mammon. Jesus said we can’t serve both God and Mammon; Mt 6.24, Lk 16.13 KJV Americans are determined to prove Jesus wrong about that. And while Babylon represented the wealthy Rome of the first century, what it really represents is the worldly wealth of any century.

Wealth is inevitably gonna fall when Jesus returns. Can’t buy your way out of trouble anymore. Revelation tells us it’s actually God who takes her out, Rv 19.1-2 not the beast she rode. Actually, she gets smited four different times in the book. Like I said, it’s not chronological.

But of course any would-be ruler of the world, however much they covet and “commit adultery” (compromise) with wealth, will turn on it in the end. Because what they really covet is power, and wealth can only buy so much power before power turns on it and strikes back—like the beast which attacks the whore.

The helicopters.

Enough of the whore. The comic book jumps backwards to Revelation 9, to the bit about the helicopters. You saw the image earlier, I take it. If not, here it is again.

Wow, helicopters in a 19-century-old book! TNWC 23

Lindsey’s interpretation is so widely known, I still hear people claim Revelation 9.9-10 is about helicopters. I keep telling them, “Have you actually read that scripture?” They really haven’t. So here it is.

Revelation 9.1-12 KWL
1 The fifth angel trumpeted. I saw a star, fallen from heaven to earth.
The key to the Abyss’s shaft was given to it. 2 It opened the Abyss’s shaft.
Smoke rose up from the shaft, like smoke from a giant furnace.
The sun and air were darkened by the shaft’s smoke.
3 Locusts came out of that smoke into the earth.
An ability was given to them like the ability scorpions have on the earth.
4 They were told they won’t harm the grass of the earth, nor plants nor trees,
but humans—whoever didn’t have God’s seal on the forehead.
5 They weren’t allowed to kill them, but to torture them five months.
Their torture’s like a scorpion’s torture when it stings a person.
6 On that day, people will look for death and never find it.
They’ll covet mortality, and death will flee from them.
7 The locusts’ form resembles horses that were prepared for war.
On their heads, something like a gold wreath; their faces like human faces;
8 having hair like women’s hair, teeth like lions’ teeth, 9 thoraxes like iron armor.
Their wings sound like many chariot horses running to war.
10 They have tails like scorpions, and stingers,
and their tails are able to sting people for five months.
11 They have a king over them: The angel of the Abyss,
its Aramaic name Avaddón, and in the Greek its name is Apollíon.
12 One woe down. Two more after this.

“Look!!!” shouts the acne-scarred teen in the comic book, “Satan just got the key to the bottomless pit!!!TNWC 22 And as you just read, no Satan didn’t. That was a star. Don’t know which star. But it was sent to activate God’s judgment, and while Satan sometimes grudgingly does God’s bidding, this ain’t that. Besides, if Satan wanted to turn the denizens of the Abyss loose on humanity, do you think it’d give the locusts orders to not harm those sealed with God on their foreheads? Satan would go after us Christians first.

Ordinary locusts eat grass and plants, and a swarm of them will strip things bare. These locusts aren’t ordinary locusts. They sting. They leave people incapacitated, like a five-month-long Taser. Whereas attack helicopters, you might’ve noticed, can’t do that: They kill.

Look at the other freaky descriptions of End Times creatures in Revelation. You’ll notice none of them sound like a first-century time-traveler went to the 21st century, took a peek at our weaponry, then came back and described them as best he could. These “locusts” aren’t ordinary locusts, obviously. But neither are they helicopters. Really, to Hal Lindsey they’re inkblots: He sees what he wants to see. He wants ’em to be helicopters.

Who’s Avaddón? That’s the angel who supervises the Abyss, God’s prison for spirits who are too evil to leave free. Lk 8.31 Elsewhere in the bible Avaddón is lumped together with death, Jb 28.22 the afterlife, Jb 26.5 or the grave, Ps 88.11 and since it means “destroyer,” Christians tend to assume it’s an evil being. It’s actually not. It’s God’s destroyer, not the devil’s. Avaddón doesn’t come after people unless God’s judged them. Whereas Satan comes after people regardless.


When the comic book gets to the sixth trumpet, it actually confuses the 200 million super-horses—I’ll quote that verse here—

Revelation 9.16-18 KWL
16 The number of the army of horses: Two myriad myriads.
I heard their number.
17 This is how I saw the horses, and those sitting on them, in my vision:
Having chestplates of fiery red, smoky blue, and sulfur yellow.
The horses’ heads were like lions’ heads,
and from their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur.
18 By these three plagues, they killed a third of humanity—
with the fire, smoke, and sulfur which spewed out of their mouths.

—with 200 million ground troops, which go to war in the Battle of Armageddon. And it means Hal Lindsey totally missed an opportunity to claim that here, John accurately described modern motorcycles equipped with flamethrowers. (Which is a really badass idea, right?) But consistency is really too much to hope for.

Armageddon is part of another cycle, found in Revelation 16, where seven angels dump seven bowls of wrath on the Beast/Antichrist’s followers. They are:

  1. Sores upon the Beast’s followers. Rv 16.2
  2. The sea turns to blood, and kills everything in it. Rv 16.3
  3. Rivers turn to blood too. Rv 16.4-7
  4. The sun becomes super hot. Rv 16.8-9
  5. The Beast’s kingdom is plunged into darkness. Rv 16.10-11
  6. The Euphrates dries up so the eastern kings can cross it and gather at Armageddon. Rv 16.12-16
  7. Babylon, and the cities of the earth, collapse; the islands and mountains vanish; giant hailstones. Rv 16.17-21 And since that stuff happens at the second coming, it’s probably the second coming. (Yes, again.)

The worst war ever. Well… actually not. TNWC 24

John predicted blood would flood the Jordan valley, but that was at the reaping of the earth’s harvest, Rv 14.14-20 which represents judgment, but not necessarily this battle. John also spoke of the 200 million super-horses, and again that was part of another vision, not the Armageddon gathering.

Heck, the vision with Armageddon in it doesn’t even have a battle in there. Seriously. Read it.

Revelation 16.12-16 KWL
12 The sixth angel poured its bowl on the great river Euphrates.
Its water dried up so a road could be prepared for the kings from the eastern sun.
13 I saw, from the mouth of the dragon, Beast, and fake prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs.
14 They’re sign-working demonic spirits, which go out to the kings of the whole civilized world,
to gather them for the war—the great day of God Almighty.
15 “Look! I come like a thief. Blessed are the awake, and the guarder of his garment:
He won’t walk around naked, and people will see his unmentionables.”
16 They gathered them together in the land which is called in Hebrew Har Meggido.

The kings may have gathered for battle, but what happens to them is they get killed when Babylon gets destroyed in the seventh bowl. Jesus invades, and the kings who’d gathered to fight him are near-instantly killed. But this idea that the biggest battle of World War III takes place in the middle of the Jordan valley: Not in the bible. False advertising.

Hartley drew some of the seventh-bowl disasters—but there’s no explanation of how they relate to the battle of Armageddon, or Jesus’s return. Because we’re yet not at the part of Revelation Darbyists consider the real second coming of Christ Jesus, chapter 19. We’re still in the last half of tribulation, when awful stuff happens apparently because God feels like letting awful stuff happen to the Beast and its minions. And it’s their own bloody fault, one of the characters exclaims:

It’s all their own fault. TNWC 25

“God would rescue them all if they’d only ask!!! But he won’t save anyone against his will!”

It all comes back to this false idea Darbyists have, that the purpose of the End, of tribulation and plagues and disaster and so forth, is that God’s inflicting these things on humanity because he’s desperate to get us to repent and turn to him. “Love me or I’ll destroy you!” It makes God sound like a psycho.

That’s not what this is. This is judgment. These are plagues called down upon evil people, who’ve rejected God’s grace and want nothing to do with him, who figure they don’t need to be forgiven, who don’t figure anyone can stop them as they exploit the weak and needy. God’s withdrawn any protection he might’ve given them, and lets their enemies have at them, and lets nature take its course. As sympathetic as we might be towards suffering, the sad fact is Revelation is describing people getting what’s coming to them. God told us to not take revenge, for that’s for him to do. Ro 12.19, He 10.30 Well, this is what it looks like when God repays evil.

Harsh, isn’t it? Maybe we should’ve forgiven them instead.

Next time: The end of the End. Finally.