02 October 2015

The comic book End Times. (Part 5.)

Finally we reach the end of the End.

Wrapping up the Christian comic book There’s a New World Coming, by Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley.
Other parts: 1234

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not an End Times expert. ’Cause there is no such thing. There are only people who know how to grammatically and historically exegete the bible, and people who think there are no such rules and the bible means whatever makes ’em feel warmest and fuzziest. End Times “prophecy scholars,” who are neither prophets nor scholars, are only experts on all the semi-historical factoids they’ve collected to interpret their individual End Times Timelines. They don’t know, any more than any Christian knows, the specifics of the End. And since they’re expecting a straight-to-heaven rapture, instead of a joining-Jesus’s-invasion rapture, they’re gonna be mighty confused when things immediately take a 180-degree turn away from their expectations.

Folks, learn the lesson of Isaiah 53. That’s Isaiah’s vision of God’s suffering slave, who gets horribly killed for our transgressions. In Jesus’s day, many Pharisees rightly recognized this was a Messianic prophecy. Yet not one of them figured out how to reconcile it with the prophecies that Messiah would be a victorious, reigning king. Some of ’em actually taught there were two Messiahs—the suffering one and the kingly one. More of ’em chose to ignore the suffering Messiah entirely. He’s such a downer.

As a result, Jesus’s students, no matter how many times he warned them he was gonna die, totally didn’t know what to think when their Master got killed. “You’re not thinking,” he had to explain to two of them, “and your hearts are slow to trust everything the Prophets spoke. Wasn’t suffering necessary for Messiah to enter into his glory?” Lk 24.25-26 And even then they couldn’t fathom it was Messiah himself telling them this. ’Cause the End Times “experts” of their day were too busy predicting a Roman-vanquishing Messiah. So they missed the sin-vanquishing one.

Shoulda read the bible for themselves. And that’s what I tell you too. Don’t trust them. Don’t trust me either: Read Revelation for yourself. Yeah, it’ll confuse you; it does everybody. But it’ll bless you, Rv 22.7 in a way you can’t get by only reading the End Times “experts.”

Okay, now it’s time to wrap up this comic book and get to the Mega-Happy Ending. Jesus wins, y’know.

Now Jesus invades.

While Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley imagine a battle of Armageddon which, according to Revelation, actually doesn’t even happen, Jesus is up in heaven, which somehow has meadows and sheep, preparing to invade the earth.

Way out ahead of his followers. TNWC 26

John Nelson Darby, whose premillennial dispensationalist teachings are the basis for Lindsey’s spin on Revelation, believed Jesus will rapture his believers before all the tribulation in Revelation ever takes place. It’s an unbiblical pipe dream, but it’s a really popular belief—’cause come on, who’d wanna suffer through seven years of awful? Not me. Pre-tribulation rapture sounds awesome. But it’s still not biblical: The rapture takes place the same time Jesus returns, and not before. 1Th 4.13-18

So this big crowd of people pictured behind Jesus? Raptured Christians, taken bodily to heaven like Enoch and Elijah and (according to many) Jesus’s mom. Plus—and here’s the fun little inconsistency which Darbyists pretend doesn’t exist—ghosts. Seriously. And I’ll get to that.

In There’s a New World Coming, Jesus leaves all these Christians up in heaven and comes to earth for his second coming, all by himself. Scripture describes him taking all of us to earth with him, but this comic book figures that’ll be a little awkward, since the very next place Jesus is seen is a disco.

His giant entourage would’ve violated fire codes. TNWC 26

Now disco sucks, and I don’t much care for nightclubs either. Lousy sound mix, overpriced drinks, girls who are only there to dance in impractical heels, shiny faux-hawked guys who are only there to hit on girls, and the 50:50 chance you’ll get roofied. But it’s not hell. Definitely not heaven either, but still.

Jesus, outraged that people are too busy hooking up with one another to notice his awesome karaoke, overreacts by throwing them into hell.

That’ll teach you to stop believin’. TNWC 27

Revelation 19 does in fact end with the judgment of the Beast/Antichrist, his false prophet who conned people into worshiping him, and the rest of the Beast’s army. The Beast and prophet get thrown, alive, into a burning pool of sulfur. Incidentally, “burning pool” is what the ancient Greeks called volcanic magma; if you’ve ever seen the lava vent on Mt. Kilauea in Hawaii, that’ll give you some idea of how John envisioned hell. (Bet you never thought Hawaii, of all places, would depict hell so well.) And Jesus takes out the Beast’s army with a metaphorical sword. Rv 19.20-21

Now that the Beast was dealt with, an angel comes down from heaven with the key to the Abyss, God’s prison for evil spirits. Lk 8.31 Satan, who empowered the Beast and let it do so much harm to humanity, is given a thousand-year sentence, and gets chained up and tossed in. Rv 20.1-2

But the rest of humanity, saved and unsaved, actually don’t get judged yet. Not for a few centuries. Not till after the millennium.

The first resurrection.

Now that evil’s been temporarily dealt with (’cause the devil’s only in the Abyss for a millennium, y’know), the resurrection, claims Lindsey, will finally take place.

’Cause he makes all things new. TNWC 27

The apostles stated the resurrection of Christians takes place at the very same time as the rapture and the second coming. In fact, they went out of their way to make it clear the living Christians don’t get raptured seven years before the dead are made alive again. Direct quote:

1 Thessalonians 4.15 SBLGNT
τοῦτο γὰρ ὑμῖν λέγομεν ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου,
ὅτι ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι εἰς τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ κυρίου
οὐ μὴ φθάσωμεν τοὺς κοιμηθέντας·

…What? When someone says “direct quote,” then gives you something in English, didn’t you realize it’s obviously not a direct quote?

[Insert cricket sound.]

Okay, enough of my little translation joke. Here’s what all that Greek stuff means:

1 Thessalonians 4.15 KWL
We tell you this message from the Master.
We who are still alive at the Master’s second coming don’t go ahead of those who’ve died.

They said so to encourage the Thessalonians, 1Th 4.18 who were worried if you died before the second coming, you’d miss everything. No you won’t. You’re getting put into brand-new resurrection bodies before the living do. A moment before, but still: You go first.

Problem is, when you believe the rapture and the second coming are two separate events, and Revelation makes it explicit the resurrection takes place at Jesus’s second coming, Rv 20.4-6 it means the resurrection just can’t happen at the rapture. It’s gotta happen at the end of the tribulation, not before. (Nor in the middle, like the mid-tribs believe.) The Darbyists’ End Times Timeline is really unforgiving about this.

It takes precedence over 1 Thessalonians, y’know. TNWC 2

Here’s where I get to that bit about the ghosts.

If the rapture and resurrection aren’t the same event, and the rapture happens before the tribulation, it means heaven is gonna be full of the weirdest mixture of living, raptured humans… and centuries upon centuries of dead Christians. Dead meaning not living, not raptured, not in human bodies. Their bodies are on the earth, in the ground, or—if the older churches venerate them as saints—little pieces of them are in reliquaries the world over.

Exactly how’s that gonna work? Darbyists never talk about it, so they can’t tell you. It’s one of those “God will sort it out” kind of deals. I would just point out God did sort it out, by making the rapture and return simultaneous, and they made a mess of things.

Now, in the Left Behind novels the rapture and resurrection are the same event: Bodies go missing from the funeral homes. But again you wind up with a mixture of the living and dead in heaven: During tribulation, Christians get martyred. Bodies dead, in the ground; spirits off to be with Jesus… and again you’ve got a mixture of ghosts and live people. And no resurrection at Jesus’s return. Because Revelation makes it clear there are only the two resurrections: That of the Christians, and that of the pagans. There’s no make-up resurrection.

Again, they don’t talk about it. In the Left Behind novel after Jesus returns, most of the good guys were martyred at the last minute (’cause the authors wanted them to be resurrected for Jesus’s regnal millennium) and somehow they got resurrected in some unbiblical secret extra resurrection. ’Cause “God will sort it out.”

Look, I’m not claiming to know how everything in the End Times plays out. I’m just telling you what’s in the bible. And I’m just pointing out the folks who claim they do know how everything plays out, are resorting to the Deus ex machina method far too often to make up for the inconsistencies they introduced. Nothing but a post-tribulation resurrection, rapture, and second coming, makes logical sense of Revelation. Not that the book makes all that much sense, but it still makes more sense than the Darbyists.

The millennium.

The comic book doesn’t mention the millennium, the thousand years Jesus rules personally. Rv 20.6 It’s been interpreted a bunch of different ways by different Christians, usually depending on how literal we think John was trying to be in Revelation.

Amillennials don’t believe it’s literal at all: It’s a metaphor for the church age, the very age we live in. It’s now. Jesus, through his Christians, is ruling the world now. And once Jesus personally returns, the millennium’s over. He’ll take the Christians to heaven with him and blow up the world. End of history.

Postmillennials believe it’s a time period where Christians finally sort out the world’s problems and run things the way Jesus always wanted. After a thousand years (or a reasonably long time) of peace and prosperity in a Christian world, Jesus returns to do as the amillennialists imagine: Take us to heaven, make earth go foom. Postmillennialism used to be the most popular view of the End Times, but two world wars cured us of ever imagining fallen humanity could fix the world. Now the only utopians who think it possible would be science fiction authors—and they’re not always Christian.

Premillennials would be the rest of us. Much as we Christians try (and should try) to fix the world, we’re gonna suck till Jesus returns to do it himself. So when Jesus returns, it’s not to blow up the world: It’s to save the world. With the devil removed as a distraction, Jesus is gonna make this place paradise. (Considering what we’ve done to it, it’s gonna take him a millennium.)

Darbyists are premillennial. Lindsey believes in the millennium too. It’s just There’s a New World Coming is focused, as Darbyists are, on tribulation. They’ll tell you precisely how that’s gonna work. Lots of Antichrist being evil, lots of political conservatives’ worst nightmares, and if you’re Hal Lindsey, lots of H-bombs. We humans understand depravity, so we’re pretty sure we can describe all that.

But harmony? Peace? Joy? All the stuff we oughta see when Jesus rules the world? That, they’re not so confident about. As it is, they’ve not really been practicing. Y’see, they’re futurists—just like End Times prophecies, they think God’s kingdom doesn’t get fulfilled till the End. So they haven’t been living in the kingdom, like we’re supposed to.

Hence some of ’em try to describe the millennium… and it comes out sounding like Iran. Their Jesus bans everything they consider icky. The Christians love it… although some of them chafe at the fact “Jesus” is way stricter than they are. The pagans are outraged, and go underground. And what happens when somebody breaks the rules?—’cause there will be unresurrected pagans in the millennium. Well, Darbyists never, ever deal with that. Well… I know of one exception. Salem Kirban’s poorly-written novel about the millennium, 1000, actually depicts someone who breaks “Jesus’s” rules… so “Jesus” destroys him with fire. I’m not kidding. Cold strikes him down, Zeus-style. Ain’t no grace in this dispensation.

I don’t at all believe Jesus is like that, or will rule like that. But because so many of us assume a theocracy can only look like Iran, or colonial-era Massachusetts, or Spain during the Inquisition, this is likely why amillennialism is the most popular view. People are bothered by the idea of Jesus literally, personally, physically ruling our planet. It’s so… political. They’d prefer his rule be more spiritual, or less real. They really don’t want to consider what it’d mean to have Jesus here, on earth… where we can’t avoid him. They’d much rather skip all the earth cleanup, and go straight to heaven.

It being Jesus, his rule won’t be anything like the twisted theocracies we’ve created. Nor anything like the religious right or religious left dream of installing.

What’s more—contrary to this panel—

Ewww. Crispy critters. TNWC 27

—pagans will live in the millennium, unharmed. The final judgment comes after. All the folks who’d been following the Beast, who’d been doing their own thing before Jesus arrived, are gonna experience Jesus’s kingdom along with all us Christians. With every knee bowed and every tongue confessing he’s Lord. Ro 14.11

They may not like it. Or they may love it. Jesus’s rule isn’t just better than the Beast’s: He’s way better than we Christians have usually made him sound. Look at all those pagans who think Pope Francis is awesome, simply because Francis tries to do as Jesus would. 1Jn 2.6 Yeah, with pagans still in the world, things won’t be as absolutely perfect as we Christians might wish. The world will still be messy and corrupt and fallen. Only now Jesus and a few billion immortal sinless Christians are in charge. I admit, it’s gonna be weird. Interesting and amazing, but weird.

Satan on parole.

Who’s running that parole board anyway? TNWC 28

Maybe it’s me, but I think there’s something profoundly screwy with the logic in these panels. Satan, smugly claims the know-it-all boy (whom I call “Archie”) was released in order to show us rebellion isn’t nurture, but nature: It’s not part of our environment, and if we just fixed the world we’d stopped sinning. Sin is built in.

This is basic Christian theology, and something Jesus teaches: It’s not what goes into us which corrupts us, but what’s already in our hearts. Mk 7.14-23 Problem is, Satan’s release isn’t the setting you want to use to teach this lesson.

Y’see, Jesus has been ruling the world relatively peacefully for centuries. As far as we know, sin hasn’t been a significant problem. There’s been no giant army amassed to defeat him. Apparently we’re good. Then Satan gets out of lockup… and then suddenly humans get all rebellious. The armies of Gog and Magog are quickly assembled to destroy Jerusalem. I’m sorry; to me this looks like a classic case of the devil made us do it. Might not be true, but that’s exactly what it looks like.

So why does God let the devil out? Revelation doesn’t say. My guess is pretty simple. Even though Jesus is ruling the world, it’s a world which consists of a mixture of willing, contributing Christians… and grudging pagans, who are putting on a happy face but would really rather be ruled by anyone but Jesus. In other words, authentic citizens and hypocrites. Wheat and weeds. Mt 18.24-30

How do you sort ’em out? Make ’em pick sides. Once Satan gets loose, they’ll join its side. It’ll somehow convince them they can actually take on Jesus and defeat him. Only heavenly fire quickly wipes them out as they approach. Rv 20.7-8 (Had drones been invented in the ’70s, Lindsey would’ve credited Jesus with using them here.)

Ooh. Candy. TNWC 28

Revelation never says this, or even hints this, but according to Lindsey, Satan offers the people of that era a spiderweb laced with pills, syringes, liquor, blunts, giant wax lips, and a book called “Free Love.” Um… I think if you’re gonna recruit people into an army to overthrow Jesus, you’re not gonna get them too stoned, drunk, or busy banging one another. More likely you’re gonna try to convince them Jesus is bad, and beatable.

In any event, Satan’s scheme fails, and it gets chucked into the same burning lake the Beast went into. Rv 20.9-10 And that’s that.

Final judgment time, which really chokes up the acne-scarred teen in this comic book, ’cause it seems he’s done a rotten job of sharing Jesus with his loved ones.

Going to hell. TNWC 24

Right before judgment is the second resurrection, in which everyone comes back from the dead to be judged. Rv 20.11-15 The Christians were part of the first resurrection, so we’ve already done a resurrection; we’re following Jesus; we’re good; we’re not involved in this judgment any. (Maybe as witnesses, Mt 12.41-42 but that’s it.) But some of the folks in the second resurrection do get pardoned: Among God’s scrolls is a scroll of life. If there was no hope of anyone being in it, I doubt God would admit it into evidence. If anyone’s name isn’t in it, into the fire they go Rv 20.15 —implying some of them are in that scroll.

How’s that work? I only have guesses. The most common one Christians pitch is that God’s grace extends to everybody who honestly sought him, and even though they never got to meet Jesus (say, some pagan who lived in South America centuries before Jesus was born, who’d never even get the chance) God decided to let ’em into heaven anyway. Other Christians are bugged by that idea, ’cause it implies we don’t have to preach the gospel to everybody. We do so have to preach the gospel to everybody. But you know how grace makes up for our personal deficiencies? It makes up for our evangelistic deficiencies too.

Hartley drew Jesus telling them, “I never knew you,” which is what he tells those who claim a relationship with Jesus, but don’t actually have one. Mt 7.23 Naturally these folks look horrified at the prospect of hell. Everyone else, not depicted, was quite happy to dive into the magma. Anything to get away from God once and for all.

New heaven and earth.

And now, according to Revelation, heaven and earth passes away. Rv 21.1 According to Lindsey, God does it with a hydrogen bomb.

The biggest H-bomb ever. TNWC 30

No idea why God would need a hydrogen bomb, or any kind of bomb. But Lindsey had the Cold War on the brain, so any time he can insert an H-bomb into Revelation, he does. Darbyists regularly make the mistake of forgetting just how almighty the Almighty is.

Hartley drew New Earth as a really nice garden, like he imagined Eden to be. And maybe it will be.

Like John Lennon’s “Imagine,” but less Marxist. TNWC 31

But Revelation 21 actually doesn’t focus on nature. It focuses on the awesome spectacle of a city, New Jerusalem. Hartley didn’t draw it, and maybe that’s because he didn’t feel he could do it justice. Most drawings do tend to make New Jerusalem look cheesy.

In the middle of N.J. is a river of living water. Not a waterfall in a garden… but I’ll get off of that peeve of mine.

Yeah, the verses in the book contract the images a little. TNWC 24

“The Holy Spirit!!!” exclaims the token girl. Who might be what the water represents, although it’s more likely the water represents life. The parallel story in Ezekiel 47 shows a river which brings everything to life—it even turns the Dead Sea fresh. And it stands to reason Darbyists don’t understand the Holy Spirit anyway, what with all their cessationism and futurism and dismissing what he’s trying to teach them in favor of their End Times Timeline.

At this point in Revelation, John warns that if we add to or take away from his prophecy, God’ll add plagues or take away New Jerusalem. Rv 20.18-19 Hopefully this doesn’t apply to End Times prognosticators who add helicopters and H-bombs, and take away anything which doesn’t fit their timeline… or God’s grace. Nor the comic book artists who draw it for them.

Wrapping things up.

John’s visions are strange enough as they are. But the way Darbyists depict the End… well, I’ll let the characters in the comic book say it themselves.

“It sounds so… made up!” TNWC 31

“Science fiction” or “a fairy tale.” Not realistic. Not plausible. Not consistent with reality as we know it.

Because to a Darbyist, it’s really not. In our dispensation—the time-period we live in, where God has a unique plan of salvation for this era—Darbyism insists God turned off the miracles. Yeah, plenty of non-cessationists, who totally believe miracles are for today, are borrowing Darby’s interpretation of the End. They don’t realize how much his worldview is messing them up.

Miracles are done, Darby insisted. We don’t have ’em. No prophecies. No healings. No signs and wonders. No nothing. No evidence of God’s involvement in the world today. We only have the bible, and we have the Holy Spirit to make us feel warm fuzzy feelings when we think we’ve interpreted the bible properly. That’s all. And, Darbyists claim, it’s all God figures we need: Bible, and the faith that God’s gonna someday do more.

So because these folks are in denial about anything miraculous in our daily Christian life, their sheer unfamiliarity with the supernatural is part of the reason their interpretation of the End Times comes across all science fictiony. When they talk about the supernatural, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Their miracles are either “scientific” explanations of what a supernatural creature looks like (i.e. helicopters instead of super-locusts) or the sort of computer-generated images you find in movies and TV. They have to use their imagination, because they’re not familiar with the reality. And science fiction is the best they can do. Pales in comparison with the real thing.

One of the things which always make me nuts about the Left Behind novels was how completely unlike miracles the books’ “supernatural” events were. They weren’t miracles. They were magic tricks. Performed by “God,” but those of us familiar with the real thing are immediately put off by the counterfeit. But if you think the real thing, the miracles God still does among his people today, are counterfeit, you won’t know any better. And when an counterfeit performs a magic trick, an illusion, before your very eyes—some antichrist claiming to be from God, and using slight of hand instead of the Holy Spirit—you’ll be easily conned. Darbyists are regularly conned by people who use the devil’s methods, like legalism, to seize power. ’Cause by rejecting miracles, they reject God’s power.

We tend to let their bizarre interpretations of the End slide, ’cause we figure they’re at least leading people to Jesus. They’re at least getting people to ask serious questions about whether the End is coming. They’re at least moving people to get right with Jesus. Right?

Right, but look at their fruit. Whom do they really lead to Jesus? The paranoid. The fearful. The angry. The conspiracy theorists. People whose lifestyle reflects works of the flesh, not fruit of the Spirit. They’re encouraged to reflect on these End Times views, and watch out for anything Antichrist-like… and stockpile guns and canned goods just in case they find him. Hence they’re not encouraged to grow in the Spirit. They’ve been given license to stay fruitless. No love and peace; only fear and alarm.

That’s not how Jesus wants us to live. He didn’t save us so we could frighten our neighbors with the worst doomsday possibilities we can imagine. He saved us so we can love those neighbors, and win them into his kingdom with good news. Darbyism is nothing but bad news.

So we need to correct this rubbish whenever we come across it. Preach the gospel of peace. Read our bibles, and base our End Times theories on scripture—not charts, systems, secret codes, and verses out of context. Be willing to admit we don’t understand everything in John’s visions, and may not till Jesus returns, and that’s okay.

And stop enriching the fearmongers who write this crap, stop giving them credibility as experts, stop giving them free passes on misquoting the bible, stop dismissing their fruitless works as benign. They’re cancer. You don’t ignore cancer. You irradiate it. Shine some light, folks.