The comic book End Times. (Part 2.)

More about Hal Lindsey’s violent supernatural funhouse of revenge fantasies.

We continue my commentary on the messed-up Christian comic book There’s a New World Coming, by Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley.
Other parts: 1345

Because I don’t accept the premillennial dispensationalist view of the End Times (which here I call Darbyism, after the guy who invented it), people occasionally accuse me of not believing Jesus will return at all. Or that I’m a universalist, who thinks Jesus is gonna save everybody and no one goes to hell. Basically they embrace the usual fallacy: “If you don’t believe as I do, you must be heretic”—and then I get accused of every heresy, ’cause all heresies are alike.

I believe as the creed teaches: From heaven, Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. Judge means he’s sorting us out, sheep-and-goats style, Mt 25.31-46 and like the old Cake song goes, “Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell.”

But I’m not a dispensationalist: I don’t believe God saves us in different ways in different eras. He’s always saved people by grace, through faith. Ep 2.8 I don’t believe in this dispensation, God does grace, but in that dispensation, he stops. There’s wrath for the unrepentant, the stubborn, the obstinate, those who want nothing to do with him, and only want to exploit or destroy the weak. But God’s kingdom runs on grace. Always has. And when a lot of pagans finally see his kingdom for what it is—instead of the way we Christians have imperfectly mangled his message and portrayed him—they’re gonna respond, “This is who Christ is? If you’d only told me, I’d have followed him in a heartbeat!” They’re not gonna be the ones tearing their hair out at his coming. To them, he’ll be the best surprise ever.

Messiah taking his kingdom, throughout the scriptures, is a happy occasion. Good news. Not good for those who love and embrace evil. But from my own experiences I don’t see a lot of people who’d prefer evil to Jesus. (To Christians maybe, but that’s hardly the same thing.)

And sadly, at the same time, a lot of Christians-in-name-only who flinch in outrage, “Why’s he doing that?” They’ll be the ones gnashing their teeth at the End. Darbyism is more their speed.

You probably wanna see some of the comic book by now, don’tcha. Okay.

The first horseman: Antichrist.

Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley’s There’s a New World Coming skips the first four chapters of Revelation, in which Jesus encourages and rebukes some of his churches which are undergoing tribulation. They have no bearing on Darbyist interpretations. Although I have heard one anti-Catholic theory that each church represents a time-period of the Christian Era. The churches which are sliding away from Jesus and embracing gnosticism and paganism are, they claim, what the Roman Catholics totally did. It’s rubbish, but it’s out there.

Anyway, we finally see the Lamb open a seven-sealed scroll:

Funny, he doesn’t look like a lamb. TNWC 8

In Revelation the Lamb has seven eyes, seven horns, and looks like he’d been killed. Rv 5.6 Christians universally recognize the Lamb to be Jesus (duh), so rather than draw the world’s freakiest-looking sheep, Hartley made him simply Jesus in a toga. Never mind that first-century Jews wore tunics and robes, not togas. But I digress; that’s more a criticism of all the anachronisms which permeate Christian art, not so much Hartley.

The know-it-all blond kid, whom I call “Archie,” comments none of Adam’s descendants can open this scroll—forgetting the Son of Man is obviously Adam’s descendant through his mom. (Makes you wonder what other mistakes exist in Hartley and Lindsey’s soteriology… but again I digress.) The Lamb is worthy to open the scroll, not because of his ancestry, but because he was killed to take away the world’s sin. Jn 1.29 “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,” y’know. Rv 5.12

He snaps the first seal off the scroll, and the boogeyman pops out.

Eek! TNWC 9

The word “antichrist” isn’t found in Revelation. It comes from 2 John 7-11, where it refers to any person who’s against (i.e. anti) Christ. In other words, anyone who’s not just non-Christian, but fights Christianity and Christ. Like militant atheists, or proselytizers of other religions.

But Christians throughout history have used Antichrist to mean the theríon/“beast” of Revelation 13, or the ánomos/“lawless one” of 2 Thessalonians 2.8-9. Antichrist represents an individual (maybe a movement) who lies to the whole world, and gets everyone to follow and worship it as if it’s Christ. Actually there have been many such people throughout history, but Darbyists say this one’s gonna show up during the seven-year tribulation in their End Times Timeline. This one:

Don’t mess with their End Times Timeline. TNWC 2

Antichrist makes Darbyists nervous. He makes a lot of Christians nervous, but Darbyists especially nervous. Most of them teach Antichrist isn’t just gonna claim to be Christ: He’s gonna try to solidify his claim as Christ by “fulfilling” as many prophecies about Messiah as possible. In Superman comics, there’s an antagonist named Bizarro, a clone of Superman gone wrong, which tries to do the opposite of everything Superman does—usually for laughs. Like greeting people with “Goodbye”—Bizarro isn’t actually evil, but for him every day is Opposite Day. Antichrist is Bizarro Jesus, but actually evil, and not funny. Darbyists claim he’ll also be born in Bethlehem, also be King David’s descendant, also perform (fake) miracles, also (fake) die and rise again. Just as Jesus is God incarnate, they figure Antichrist will be Satan incarnate. (This despite Revelation 13.1-2, where the beast and the dragon—who’s explicitly called Satan Rv 12.9 —are two separate beings.) To Darbyists, Antichrist will (appear to) be as powerful as Jesus. But evil.

Being a descendant of King David means Antichrist would have to be a Jew. And that’s a belief Darbyists strive hard to downplay: They realize how antisemitic it sounds. They don’t mean it to be. They love Jews. No, seriously, they do: Jews are a huge part of Darbyist theories; I’ll get to that at another time. The last thing they wanna do is alienate Jews… by letting slip they think a Jew will someday become evil incarnate.

The evil-incarnate idea naturally gives Christians the willies, as it did me when I used to believe in this Darbyist nightmare. But bear in mind the devil’s power has been greatly exaggerated. It’s a defeated being. Not even defeated by God himself: Thrown out of heaven by an angel, a being no more powerful than we are. Rv 12.7-9 And if we stand up to it, we can defeat it as well. Jm 4.7 Both Antichrist and devil have no more power than your average tin-horn warlord. Now, that doesn’t mean powerless: Kim Jong Un, fr’instance, can have anyone in his country tortured and murdered. But Kim is still susceptible to viruses or bullets, and the devil can still get smacked around by Jesus.

Okay, but let’s ask a more basic question: Are we sure the white horse’s rider is Antichrist? Revelation doesn’t say what he is. It only says he’s a conqueror, with a crown and a firearm, off to conquer. Rv 6.1-2

When I was a kid, I had Arthur S. Maxwell’s The Bible Story, a 10-volume illustrated children’s bible. Naturally I read Maxwell’s version of Revelation, which interprets the book from an Adventist perspective. (Adventist theology has its own issues, but it’s way more accurate than Darbyism.) Maxwell believed the rider on the white horse is Christ Jesus. ’Cause later in Revelation we read of another white horse, ridden by Faithful and True (i.e. Jesus), who wears crowns and kicks ass. Rv 19.11-16 Adventists figure this is precisely the same horse and rider. And y’know, that actually makes perfect sense. The scroll the Lamb is opening represents human history from that point onward, which does begin with Jesus conquering sin and death. And over time, the Roman Empire, which became Christian.

Darbyists say it can’t be the same guy. It’d futz up their entire End Times Timeline. Jesus is up in heaven with all the pre-tribulation raptured Christians, remember? So they figure this is someone pretending to be Jesus. So, Antichrist.

Blessed Suspect are the peacemakers. TNWC 10

Archie points out that, since Jesus is the Prince of Peace, Bizarro Jesus will therefore be the Prince of False Peace. He’ll pretend to be peaceful. But instead it’s just a ruse to conquer the world. ’Cause that’s how he’ll conquer: With peace. Bizarro!

Since Darbyists are so paranoid about their Bizarro Jesus interpretation of Antichrist, a lot of ’em have become absolutely against anything which tries to bring peace to our world. I’m not kidding. Ever notice all the conservatives who claim to be good Christians, who’re nonetheless against every peaceful or diplomatic initiative our government tries? Jimmy Carter gets Israel and Egypt to make peace, Bill Clinton gets Israel and the Palestinians to talk, Barack Obama opens relations with Cuba and Iran, and Darbyists flip their lids. And it’s not just because Darbyists and these particular American Presidents join different political parties. It’s because the Darbyists are sure these politicians aren’t making real peace, but false peace. Antichrist-style false peace. Blessed are the peacemakers? Mt 5.9 Screw that; it’s a trick. It’s what the devil wants us to think.

How messed up is it, when acting like Jesus gets you accused of being evil incarnate? But it happened to Jesus too. He’d free people from evil spirits, and the Pharisees in response claimed he was doing it devilishly. Mk 3.22 He had to warn them they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Mk 3.28-29 I’m not saying Darbyists do likewise… wait, I am, ’cause they totally do.

So my view is closer to that of the Adventists: The white horse’s rider is Christ, and the other horsemen represent the persecutions Christianity suffered, and suffers, throughout world history, and in the present day. That fits the context of these scriptures.

The second horseman: The Russo-Israeli War.

The next horse, a red one, is explicitly ridden by someone who’s given a sword and takes peace away from the world. Rv 6.4 It’s obviously war. Darbyists claim it’s a specific war—an imagined war between Russia and Israel in the middle of the seven-year tribulation. Tim LaHaye imagines Antichrist leads the forces against Israel; Hal Lindsey claims he actually defends Israel, defeats Israel’s enemies, and as an apparent victor and peacemaker he convinces the rest of the world to follow him.

Yeah, they kinda tried to draw a tank riding a horse. TNWC 10

Now, Revelation refers to no such mid-trib attack on Israel. Neither does this passage about the red horse. Yet every Darbyist teaches about this war. Why? If it’s not in Revelation, where are they getting it?

From the Darbyist practice of cherry-picking the bible for End Times prophecies. If you can find any prophecy in the Old and New Testaments which hasn’t, far as you know, been fulfilled—really easy to do when you don’t know any ancient Middle Eastern history—Darbyists figure it’ll get fulfilled at the End. It has to be. Otherwise God’d be a liar, and we can’t have that.

Hence Darbyists cram a lot of OT prophecies into their Timeline. And as any casual reader of the OT will notice, a lot of prophecies have to do with Israel and their belligerent neighbors. Israel’s foes were planning to invade ’em from the east, north, south, the Mediterranean, the sky above, the ground beneath, every freaking direction. Darbyists project all these prophecies of ancient attacks and war into the End Times. So just as everyone’s saying, “Hey, check it out: This Beast guy brought us world peace!” Israel’s gonna get hammered every which way.

And who, according to Lindsey, is gonna lead this army of darkness? The Commies. ’Cause this was written during the Cold War, when Communists were our enemies, so why not make ’em the End Times enemies too?

Darbyists took one reference to Gog and Magog, Rv 20.8 Magog being a nation in the Caucasus Mountains on the southern Russian border, and extrapolated that into the Soviet Union being a major End Times foe of Israel. This, despite the fact Magog doesn’t start misbehaving till the end of Jesus’s millennial kingdom. Yep, 10 centuries after the great tribulation is supposed to happen. Just goes to show you how much your politics can monkey with your bible studies.

Commies and Arabs, oh my! TNWC 10

During the Cold War, the Americans and Soviets were trying to line up allies among the “third world,” the nations who hadn’t joined our NATO and Warsaw Pact alliances. (Since most “third world” nations were poor, that’s what the term came to mean.) The Arabs, annoyed at the U.S.’s alliance with Israel, sometimes tried to bug us by making nice with the Soviets. But not that nice: American oil developers and trade was making them filthy rich, so their Soviet alliances were really just business tactics.

Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia has become a competitor to the Arab world—a major producer of oil and natural gas, with little interest in reviving those Cold War alliances. And little interest in getting as mixed up in Middle Eastern politics as the United States. The Christians who influence Russian society and politics are amillennialists, who don’t expect anything more to signal the End: Jesus will just take his Christians to heaven with him, then destroy the world. Whereas the Christians who influence American politics are often Darbyists, and exalt Israel to such a level of importance, we simply won’t get out of the Middle East. America has gotta be involved—so we can take Israel’s side when Antichrist attacks.

Or defends, as Lindsey has it.

Antichrist to the rescue! TNWC 11

The Common Market was what Americans called the European Economic Community, now called the European Union. Somehow Antichrist will get the Europeans to overcome 20 centuries of genocidal antisemitism and defend Israel. But really it’s all part of his evil plan.

Problem is, historical forces keep changing. The Communist countries in Europe don’t exist anymore. (The Commies in China and Cuba have more Christians per capita than the European Union.) The E.U. is hardly a revived Roman Empire.

But because this was the End Times scenario Lindsey first pitched in The Late, Great Planet Earth, he kinda locked himself into it. And yes, he’s updated it many times since in his other books, using more recent current events. But he doesn’t want to admit his first interpretation was entirely wrong. So somehow, for some reason, the Russians are gonna turn evil and invade Israel—the one Middle Eastern country they’re not competing with for oil revenue. Because in 1970, Lindsey said it was biblically foreordained. That’s his prophecy, and he’s sticking to it.

The third horseman: The Greater Depression.

Or as the bible calls it, “famine.” TNWC 11

John next saw a black horse, whose rider carries scales. A voice in the middle of the four living beings who surround God’s throne—more than likely the Lamb’s—says, “A liter of wheat is a denarius. Three liters of barley is a denarius. You shouldn’t hurt the olive oil and wine.” Rv 6.5-6 KWL Now, this was eight times the usual first-century price of wheat; five times the usual price of barley. So there’s a food shortage. In bible times this was called famine. Today it’s called recession.

Lindsey interprets this as the bleak economic results of the Russo-Israeli War. Of course it could also be the result of any war. Or any economic disaster. Fr’instance, say financiers convinced Congress to deregulate their industry. Then they repackaged overvalued mortgages and sold them to people who couldn’t really afford them. Then they bought insurance, lest the bubble burst and people defaulted on their mortgages. And once the bubble they inflated did burst, they were fine—but banks went under, stocks lost value, businesses collapsed, jobs shriveled up, nobody could get loans, and the economy went all to hell. Sound familiar?

No, I’m not saying the last years of the Bush Administration were predicted in Revelation; I’m no Darbyist. There have been many depressions and recessions in human history. They happen. That’s the point: Jesus’s scroll was about John’s future—which includes our past. Not just the final seven years before Jesus’s return.

And why would Jesus need to tell John and the Christians about it? Because life under persecution is rough. It’s hard to afford things when you’re forced to go underground and hide from hostile Romans. Or Syrians. Or Saudis. Wherever Christians are persecuted, work and food are hard to come by.

The fourth and fifth horsemen: Death and Hades.

The next horse is khlorós/“green.” The KJV translated it “pale”—as if horses in an apocalyptic vision must have natural colors. What about the red horse? But I digress; my beef is with Darbyists, not the KJV’s translators.

Death awaits you all. With nasty sharp pointy teeth. TNWC 12

People refer to the “four horsemen,” but techncially there are five. Death rode the green horse, but Hades came along. Rv 6.7-8 Whether Hades got its own horse is debatable. The comic book dropped Hades altogether. What’s a mythological Greek god doing in the bible anyway?

But in the New Testament, ádis/“hades” doesn’t represent the god. It represents the sh’ol/“grave,” the afterlife. It’s where we go when we die, before Jesus resurrects us at his second coming. When the creed says Jesus “descended into hell,” it really means ádis. Jesus went into the grave. And conquered it. He holds its keys, y’know. Rv 1.18 He got out.

They were put over a quarter of the earth. Lindsey interprets this to mean “One quarter of the world’s population will be destroyed in a matter of days!!!” TNWC 11 That’s if you follow his End Times Timeline—but don’t.

The portents will get all ’splodey. TNWC 12

See, Lindsey bobs and weaves over to this bit in Luke because he’s trying to disconnect our minds from the fact the next seal, the fifth one, disproves his assertion that all these events take place after the rapture. Instead, he claims, these disasters are all part of the great tribulation, and after the rapture.

Never mind how the Luke quote refers to stuff that’ll happen while us Christians are still around. Here’s what Jesus said in the verses right after the ones Lindsey and Hartley quoted.

Luke 21.12-19 KWL
12 “More than all this: They’ll lay their hands on you all.
They’ll persecute, handing you over to synagogues and prisons,
hauling you before kings and leaders because of my name.
13 They’ll abandon you because of your testimony.
14 So prepare your minds—
not to plan in advance to defend yourselves,
15 for I’ll give you mouths and wisdom,
which those who oppose you will be unable to stand or speak against.
16 Some of your parents, siblings, and friends will hand you over, and put some of you to death.
17 Haters will come from everywhere, because of my name.
18 Not a hair of your heads will be lost:
19 Gain your lives by standing firm.”

True, pro de túton pánton/“more than all this” can also be translated “before these things,” implying persecution comes before the earthquakes, famines, plagues, and heavenly signs. But then why would Jesus’s prophecy jump around in time, between stuff that’s relevant to his hearers, and stuff that won’t matter because we’ll be raptured away? Why would Jesus’s very next verses be a warning about what to do when the Romans invade Jerusalem? Ro 21.20-24 And it’s only after that prophecy he talks about his second coming. Lk 21.27

But back to Death and Hades, which Lindsey was trying to get us away from. To Lindsey, this quarter of the earth is a judgment upon the pagans left behind. The very next verses in Revelation will prove it’s really not. Death and Hades didn’t come for the pagans; they came for us. Because people have killed Christians in all the ways Death attacks—“by sword, starvation, execution, and with wild animals.” Rv 6.8 KWL This is a list of all the ways we’ve been martyred.

Darbyists claim by this point we were raptured. Which is why the pre-tribulation rapture idea is so very popular. I love the idea of avoiding martyrdom. Who wouldn’t?—except for masochists with serious mental disorders. It means the horsemen aren’t coming for us, but for pagans, to conquer and kill and starve and maim.

Trouble is, when you actually read Revelation, it says just the opposite.

The next seal: Martyrs.

When the Lamb snaps off the fifth seal, this time no horseman comes forth. Instead we get this.

Revelation 6.9-11 KWL
9 When he broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar:
The lives of those slaughtered because of God’s word, because of the witness they had.
10 They called out in a loud voice, saying: “Our holy true lord, how long till you judge?
till you avenge our blood upon the earth’s inhabitants?”
11 Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told it’ll stop in a little while:
Once they were full. Their fellow servants, their brothers, were about to be killed just like them.

That’s right. These Christians are complaining God hasn’t yet punished the people who killed them. The pagans haven’t yet been judged. They’re still waiting on that. The horsemen of the last three seals haven’t been avenging them. They’ve been killing them.

Precisely the opposite of Lindsey’s claims. Now here’s how Lindsey and Hartley interpet this passage.

Oh, they’re tribulation martyrs. TNWC 13

Yep, skip everything the martyrs had to say, and everything they were told to comfort them. Just mention they were martyred, and imply their deaths all take place because the pagans, outraged at God’s judgments against them, furious about what the horsemen are up to, mass-murder Christians in retaliation.

When the bible contradicts the Darbyists’ End Times Timeline, one of ’em has to take priority. Pity it’s not the bible.

Okay, that’s plenty enough to chew on for today. • Next time, the Lamb unseals the rest of history. Or as Lindsey interprets it, the rest of the tribulation. Guess which interpretation will be more biblical.