Showing posts with label #EndTimes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #EndTimes. Show all posts

Warnings when persecution comes.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 September

Mark 13.9, Matthew 24.9-13, Luke 21.12-19.

In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus warned his students what’d happen before, as he predicted, the Romans destroyed the temple in the great tribulation in the year 70.

But fearful Christians insist this passage isn’t at all about ancient Jerusalem, but our future: A seven-year worldwide tribulation. Darbyists manipulate the Olivet Discourse to defend their beliefs, and people believe ’em because they don’t know first-century history, don’t know their bibles, and aren’t depending on the Holy Spirit to help them defeat fear, paranoia, peacelessness, and the lack of basic discernment in interpreting scripture.

Today’s passage especially triggers their fears, because here Jesus speaks of the active persecution of Christians. Which, when Jesus taught this discourse in 33, was coming soon. Really, really soon. Probably before the year was out, Peter and John would cure some guy on the temple steps, Ac 3.1-10 and the Sadducee head priests would arrest and try ’em before the Judean senate for it. Ac 4.1-22 Things would only escalate from there.

Because when you legitimately follow Jesus—even in a country which considers itself predominantly Christian, even in a country full of Christian nationalists who want to make it officially Christian—you’re gonna get pushback. Just as Jesus himself did, from Pharisees who thought he was heretic. Who’d have him killed five days later.

It’s only common sense to expect Jesus’s active followers to be treated like our Lord, so that part doesn’t take the Holy Spirit to foretell. What does are the details Jesus included in his warnings about persecution. Christianity was gonna advance despite persecution. It always has, despite the careful plans of persecutors.

Mark 13.9 KWL
9 “Look out for yourselves.
People will hand you over to senates
and you’ll be flogged in synagogues.
You’ll stand before leaders and kings because of me,
to testify of me to them.”
 
Matthew 24.9-13 KWL
9 “Then they’ll hand you over to tribulation and kill you.
You’ll be hated people to every ethnic group because of my name.
10 Then many will be tripped up,
will betray one another, will hate one another.
11 Many fake prophets will be raised up,
and will lead many astray.
12 Because of the exponential spread of lawlessness,
the love of many will grow cold.
13 One who perseveres to the end—
this person will be saved.”
 
Luke 21.12-19 KWL
12 “Before all these things happen,
they’ll throw their hands on you;
they’ll hunt you down,
handing you over to synagogues and prisons,
dragging you away to kings and leaders because of my name.
13 It’ll turn you into witnesses,
14 so determine in your hearts to not prepare a defense:
15 I’ll give you a mouth and wisdom
which every one of your adversaries
will be unable to withstand or dispute.
16 You’ll also be betrayed by parents, siblings,
relatives and friends,
and they’ll put some of you to death.
17 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
18 But if every hair on your head isn’t destroyed,
19 save your souls by your endurance!”

Stop prematurely freaking out over the End!

by K.W. Leslie, 11 September

Mark 13.7-8, Matthew 24.6-8, Luke 21.9-11.

No doubt you’ve read the Sermon on the Mount. (You are Christian, right? It’s kinda required reading.) So you’re aware Jesus orders us followers not to worry.

Matthew 6.31-34 NRSV
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the gentiles who seek all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Kinda straightforward instructions. But when we’ve not surrendered our lives to Jesus—our entire lives, not just the religious bits and beliefs—we’re gonna suck at obeying them. We’re gonna worry. If we’re poor, about the necessities of life; if we’re wealthy, about staying comfortable and influential.

Professional End Times prognosticators try to make us worry about both. If we’re wealthy, they want us to worry about losing our wealth; if we’re poor, they want us to worry about losing our freedom. Believe it or don’t, it’s not because they’re trying to con us into buying their lousy books—or worse, their lousy food buckets for our End Times bunkers. It’s because they’re preaching out of their own paranoia. They worry even more than you do about the rubbish they write about. They write it because they believe it.

And they write it because they don’t believe Jesus. “Don’t worry about tomorrow”? That’s all they do. Because tribulation is coming. Oppressive governments, cashless societies, stealth drones that could blow you up when you least expect, spy cameras in every computer and phone, people trying to rig elections… They’re everywhere. Read the times, man!

All of ’em ignore today’s passage. Or in many cases flip its meaning over entirely.

Mark 13.7-8 KWL
7 “When any of you hear wars
and the noises of wars,
don’t panic. It happens.
But it’s not the end yet.
8 For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes will happen various places.
Scarcity will happen.
These are first birth pangs.”
 
Matthew 24.6-8 KWL
6 “You’re all about to hear wars
and the noises of wars.
Look, don’t panic, for it happens.
But it’s not the end yet.
7 For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes and scarcity will happen various places.
8 All these are first birth pangs.”
 
Luke 21.9-11 KWL
9 “When any of you hear wars
and instability,
don’t panic, for these things happen first.
But the end isn’t at hand.”
10 Then Jesus told them,
“Ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
11 Both great quakes and scarcity in various places,
and plagues will happen.
Both terrifying events
and signs from heaven will happen.”

I translated μὴ θροεῖσθε/mi throeísthe, “don’t wail aloud in terror,” Mk 13.7, Mt 24.6, Lk 21.9 as “don’t panic.” I could also go with “don’t freak out,” and have in the past.

’Cause people do. Did back then. They’d hear of violence, earthquakes, signs from heaven, and immediately think, “What does it mean?” Then spend a whole lot of time speculating what it might mean. Is it a sign from the gods, like ancient pagans insisted?—or like “prophecy scholars” still do?

Well I just showed you three synced-up Jesus quotes which say no it’s not. And if you don’t trust my translation, fine; read others. They’re all gonna mean the same thing though. Stop prematurely freaking out over the End!

Kingdom against kingdom.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 September

Mark 13.8, Matthew 24.7-8, Luke 21.10-11.

“Wait, you already did this text.” Some of it, yeah. Not all. I’m kinda going line by line through it. Last time was about “nations,” i.e. ethnic groups. Today’s about kingdoms.

And while the word “nation” in most bibles is more accurately translated “ethnic group,” the word “kingdom” comes from the Greek word βασιλεία/vasileía, meaning “the domain of a king.” In short, kingdom. It’s an accurate translation.

Lemme quote Jesus in the scriptures again.

Mark 13.8 KWL
“For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes will happen various places.
Scarcity will happen.
These are first birth pangs.”
 
Matthew 24.7-8 KWL
7 “For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes and scarcity will happen various places.
8 All these are first birth pangs.”
 
Luke 21.10-11 KWL
10 Then Jesus told them,
“Ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
11 Both great quakes and scarcity in various places,
and plagues will happen.
Both terrifying events
and signs from heaven will happen.”

I tend to structure Jesus’s words as poetry, because that is how he talks when he teaches people; he does it on purpose to make his teachings more memorable. He’s doing the Hebrew poetry thing where one repeats ideas, or builds off previous ideas. “This against that” in line 1; “another thing against yet another thing” in line 2. Ethnic fighting, then kingdoms fighting.

Again, Jesus is not listing the “signs of the times.” He makes this clear, even though many an End Times prognosticator totally ignores Jesus and claims these things are indicators—really clear ones!—that the End Times are upon us, and the great tribulation is near. These are the normal activities you’re gonna see in our fallen world. Humans are gonna be awful to one another, and both natural and manmade disasters are gonna happen. They don’t mean it’s the End. This is life. And life is suffering.

When Jesus says “Ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group” in line 1, he doesn’t supply a verb in line 2; in all three synoptic gospels it’s βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν/vasileía epí vasileían, “kingdom against kingdom.” He means for us to borrow the verb from line 1, ἐγερθήσεται/eyerthísete, “it’ll be raised up [against],” meaning somebody else is gonna provoke these ethnic groups and kingdoms to fight. You can speculate it’s the devil, and End Times prognosticators will speculate it’s the Beast. Me, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if this is the result of humans trying to manipulate other humans for profit and power. It’s what we do.

Nation will rise up against nation.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 August

Mark 13.8, Matthew 24.7-8, Luke 21.10-11.

You notice the title of this piece is “Nation will rise up against nation,” yet when I translate the gospel passages which usually get interpreted that way, you’ll notice I render ἔθνος/éthnos as “ethnic group.” Because that’s what an éthnos is.

Mark 13.8 KWL
“For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes will happen various places.
Scarcity will happen.
These are first birth pangs.”
 
Matthew 24.7-8 KWL
7 “For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes and scarcity will happen various places.
8 All these are first birth pangs.”
 
Luke 21.10-11 KWL
10 Then Jesus told them,
“Ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
11 Both great quakes and scarcity in various places,
and plagues will happen.
Both terrifying events
and signs from heaven will happen.”

Éthnos tends to be translated “nation” because for the longest time, people presumed a nation was a country consisting of a homogenous people-group. Ancient Israel consisted only of the descendants of Israel ben Isaac, and ancient Edom of the descendants of Esau ben Isaac, and Moab of the descendants of Moab ben Lot, and so forth. They all had the same ethnic background and race.

Racists especially liked this theory. Even though it’s not wholly true. The LORD let people immigrate, y’know, and become Israeli. Like Ruth the Moabite, or Uriah the Hittite. Like Moses’s Cushite wife. Nu 12.1 (This isn’t the same woman as Zipporah the Midianite, Ex 2.21 even though many Jews insist she is; this is someone from Cush, which is south of Egypt.) Like any of the various Hebrews and Canaanites with whom Israelis intermarried till Ezra ben Seraiah cracked down on the practice in the fifth century BC. Every culture has had intermarriage with neighboring countries and foreigners—and sometimes it was a scandal, and sometimes not. Pretending it never happened, of course implies it’s scandalous.

But racists still think of nation as meaning the very same thing as ethnic group. So whenever they talk about “this nation,” their nation, that’s what they believe it oughta be: A country which only consists of people like them. They wanna purge the country of other races—or at least make ’em second-class citizens. It’s not natural, they insist, for a country to be made up of, or led by, multiple races.

Wars and the noises of wars.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 August

Mark 13.7, Matthew 24.6, Luke 21.9.

I grew up during the Cold War. As a result I grew up with Darbyists like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, who were absolutely convinced the United States’ disagreements with the Soviets and Chinese were somehow gonna escalate into the great tribulation. Lindsey in particular offered a lot of scenarios about how it might happen—which he had to update every few years as the international situation changed. Basically you take what everybody’s already anxious about—nuclear war—and tell ’em all their worst fears will come true, whip ’em into a panic, and use it to sell vitamin supplements… whoops, sorry, wrong conspiracy theorist. He sold books. Millions and millions of books. It made Lindsey a wealthy man.

Thing is, once the Cold War ended, Darbyists had to find a new boogeyman. Some of them never gave up on their polemics against the Soviets (now the Russians), and insisted Boris Yeltsin or Vladimir Putin had to trigger the End Times somehow. The current Russia-Ukraine war has borne them an awful lot of scaremongering fruit. Other Darbyists pointed to China, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, or any other nation which they personally didn’t like, and dug up out-of-context bible verses which helped ’em connect the dots and “prove” their theories. I’ve lost count of all the crackpots I’ve heard through the years.

Every time the United States got involved in war since, Darbyists and Darbyist-adjacent “prophecy scholars” insisted this was it. This was the war which’d lead to the tribulation, the rapture, the tribulation, the Beast, Armageddon, and the second coming. Thus far they’re batting .000, but just you wait: Next time we get tangled up in a war, they’re gonna claim that’s the war which triggers the End.

This behavior has been going on long before my time. Dwight Wilson, in his 1991 book Armageddon Now! The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917, can give you a rundown of all the End Times-triggering world events since Darbyism got popular in the United States in the late 1800s.

The current crisis was always identified as a sign of the end, whether it was the Russo-Japanese War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Palestine War, the Suez Crisis, the June War, or the Yom Kippur War. The revival of the Roman Empire has been identified variously as Mussolini’s empire, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the European Defense Community, the Common Market, and NATO. Speculation on the Antichrist has included Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, and Henry Kissinger. The northern confederation was supposedly formed by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Rapallo Treaty, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and then the Soviet Bloc. The “kings of the east” have been variously the Turks, the lost tribes of Israel, Japan, India, and China. The supposed restoration of Israel has confused the problem of whether the Jews are to be restored before or after the coming of the Messiah. The restoration of the latter rain has been pinpointed to have begun in 1897, 1917, and 1948. The end of the “times of the Gentiles” has been placed in 1895, 1917, 1948, and 1967. “Gog” has been an impending threat since the Crimean War, both under the Czars and the Communists. Wilson 216.

Evangelicals just can not stop themselves from “discerning the news,” and trying to find the threads which lead to the End. Sometimes ’cause they wish Jesus would return as soon as possible (and I wish that too; maranatha!)… and others, believe it or don’t, because they don’t wish Jesus would return. They’re happy with things as they are. They’ll fight tooth and nail to delay his coming, delay any tribulation, delay delay delay—till their lives are in a good place, and they’re ready. Whenever that is.

Every little chaotic event makes ’em speculate the End is near, and of course nothing grabs their attention quite like war. Which is why Jesus, right after he warned his students of false Messiahs, warned ’em of war.

“Watch out. Don’t be misled.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 August

Mark 13.3-6, Matthew 24.3-5, Luke 21.7-8.

Nope, not talking about Christian nationalism today. Although good gracious, it surely feels like American Christianity has been utterly misled by power-hungry Sadducees who don’t know the Holy Spirit, and don’t know how to do anything with bible other than misquote and mangle it. But I suspect it mostly feels this way because of the company I keep.

Anyway, enough ranting about that. Today’s passage isn’t about our present-day drama anyway. The Olivet Discourse is almost entirely about the first century, and very little touches upon the second coming. Primarily it’s about what that generation of Christians would experience within four decades of Jesus saying this.

It began during Holy Week in the year 33, when Jesus was in temple and people commented on how nicely the fourth temple’s construction was coming along. Jesus’s reply was there “won’t be stone upon stone which won’t be pulled down.” Lk 21.6 KWL

Which stunned Jesus’s hearers. This isn’t at all part of the popular first-century Pharisee teachings about the End Times. In most of the rabbis’ timelines, Messiah came to Jerusalem, worshiped God at temple, then turn round and conquer the world. (Most Darbyists have pretty much duplicated the general Pharisee scenario—but swapped out Messiah for the Beast, who they claim will pettily desecrate a still-has-yet-to-be-built sixth temple instead of worshiping there. Where’s this warped idea come from? Well, we’ll get to that.)

Okay. So pulling the temple down is a big, big deal. It’s as if someone blew up the world trade center of a Mammonist country. You wanna cut the heart out of every devout Judean, no matter their denomination? This’d be how.

Understandably Jesus’s students wanted to know where on earth this falls within the End Times timeline. ’Cause they unthinkingly expected things to play out the way Pharisees taught. Since Messiah himself says it’s not gonna be the way, okay; how does it work? Luke makes it sound like they questioned Jesus right there, but Mark and Matthew say it was on Olivet Hill east of the temple. Mark also says only four of ’em asked, while the other eight were… I dunno, off playing soccer or something.

Mark 13.3-6 KWL
3 While sitting himself at Olivet Hill opposite the temple,
Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew
are asking Jesus privately,
4 “Tell us when these things will be.
What’s the sign when all these things should end?”
5 Jesus begins to tell them,
“Watch out lest someone mislead you all:
6 Many will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and will mislead many.”
 
Matthew 24.3-5 KWL
3 While sitting himself upon Olivet Hill,
the students came to Jesus on their own,
saying, “Tell us when these things will be.
What’s the sign of your second coming,
and the end of this age?
4 In reply, Jesus tells them,
“Watch out lest someone mislead you all:
5 Many will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and will mislead many.”
 
Luke 21.7-8 KWL
7 They inquired of Jesus, saying, “Teacher,
so when will these things be?
What’s the sign when all these things should happen?”
8 Jesus says,
“Watch out. Don’t be misled:
People will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and ‘The time has come.’
You ought not follow them.”

Okay. The most obvious sign the Olivet Discourse is about the first century, and neither our present nor the time before a future great tribulation, is right here in Jesus’s first warning of the discourse. “Don’t be misled; people are gonna come in my name and claim they’re Messiah.”

The Olivet Discourse: The temple’s destruction, and preterism.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 August

Mark 13.1-2, Matthew 24.1-2, Luke 21.5-6.

In the synoptic gospels there’s a narrative we Christians have historically called the Olivet Discourse, named for Olivet Hill (KJV “the mount of Olives”) where Jesus told his students about the near future and his second coming.

Christians spend a lot of time analyzing and discussing it. For good reason; we wanna know about the second coming! (And want it to happen sooner rather than later.) We wanna know the future. We wanna know our futures. Should we make grand plans for our lives, or is the great tribulation gonna get in the way?

I grew up in churches which had adopted the Darbyist view of the End Times. It’s a futurist interpretation of the scriptures: It insists everything in the bible about the End Times takes place in our future, and none of it has yet happened. Yeah okay, there might be historical events which look like they fulfilled it, but they didn’t really. Darbyists have a timeline of the seven years before Jesus returns, and End Times prophecies are only to fit within that timeline. Anybody who claims otherwise is, depending on the zeal of the individual Darbyist, either naïve, seriously wrong, heretic, or secretly working for the Beast and intentionally trying to lead us astray. Feels like it’s usually that last one.

Thing is, when I grew up and studied history, I quickly came to the conclusion the historical events which look like they fulfilled it… in a ludicrously obvious way, do fulfill it. Everything Jesus said would happen, did. (Except his actual second coming. ’Cause come on.) That’s why the Holy Spirit inspired the gospel authors to include this lesson in their books: The gospels were written, and widely circulated, less than a decade before these events happened. Which meant Christians were ready for these events to happen, got out of the way, and could point out to every pagan around this proves Jesus knows the future. It’s a mighty useful evangelistic tool.

Of course people of our day don’t know ancient history, so of course this goes right over our heads.

We Christians who believe the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in the first century, and that most of the stuff in Revelation was also fulfilled by the second century, are called preterist 'prɛd.ər.ɪst —a word that’s related to the grammar word preterite, “past tense.” Some nitpickers call us “partial preterists,” because we don’t claim the second coming has also already happened. Yeah, on very rare occasion you’re gonna find a “full preterist” who does believe it—who claims Jesus appearing to John in Revelation somehow counts as his second coming. It doesn’t. Nor does “pretrist” automatically mean “full preterist”: It only means we believe the bulk of the bible’s End Times prophecies were fulfilled, so the only things yet to come are Jesus’s return, probably the millennium, and New Earth. Contrary to Darbyist fearmongers, there are no seven years of mayhem delaying his return.

If you wanna know about the events Jesus predicts in his Olivet Discourse, I refer you to the very useful Bellum Judaicum/“The Judean War,” written by Flavius Josephus in the years 75 to 79. He’s an eyewitness to when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70, and tells of it in gory detail. William Whiston’s translation is in the public domain, and is a bit of a slog to get through; there are better ones. I’m partial to G.A. Williamson’s The Jewish War for Penguin Classics.

Ascension: When Jesus took his throne.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 May

If we figure Luke’s count of 40 days Ac 1.3 wasn’t an estimate, but a literal 40 days, on Thursday, 15 May 33, this happened.

Acts 1.6-9 KJV
6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

I usually translate ἐπήρθη/epírthi, which the KJV renders “he was taken up,” as “he was raptured.” ’Cause that’s what happened. He got raptured into heaven.

From there Jesus ascended (from the Latin ascendere, “to climb”) to the Father’s throne—to sit at his right hand, Ac 2.33, 7.55-56 both in service and in judgment. We figure Jesus’s ascension took place the very same day he was raptured, so that’s when Christians have historically celebrated it: 40 days after Easter, and 10 days before Pentecost Sunday.

Some of us figure ascension celebrates Jesus’s rapture. And yeah, we can celebrate that too… but the way more important thing is Jesus taking his throne. When we say our Lord reigns, you realize his reign began at some point. Wasn’t when he died, and defeated sin and death; wasn’t when he rose from the dead, and proved he defeated sin and death. It’s when he took his throne. It’s his ascension day. Which we observe today.

Aren’t we living in the last days?

by K.W. Leslie, 07 March

Yes.

But you may not realize what that answer means. Usually because most people don’t realize what the question means.

In the scriptures, “the last days” does not mean the End Times, the world right before Jesus returns, the reign of Jesus which follows, and the end of the world which comes right after that. But that’s what most people think it means; pagans and Christians alike. So when they ask, “Aren’t we living in the last days?” what they really mean is “Aren’t we living in the End Times?” Do the current events we see on the news, correspond with John’s end-time visions in Revelation?

The answer to that question is no. We’re not living in the End Times. Because the End Times actually don’t start till Jesus returns. It doesn’t consist of any pretrib rapture and one-world government and great tribulation. It starts and ends with Christ Jesus.

When we’re living in the End Times, you’ll know it. Everybody’s gonna see that second coming. Whether they believe it, or insist it’s fake news ’cause they have an entirely different-looking second coming in mind—one which better aligns with their terrifying, vengeful views—is another thing.

So if the last days aren’t the End Times, what are they?

Well y’know how the western calendar divides human history into BCE and CE? (Or the older terms, BC and AD?) The Common Era, or Christian Era, is the division we live in; the Before-Christian Era is the division which came before. In the BCE humanity looked forward to Messiah’s first coming; in the CE we look forward to his second. And before these eras were formally made part of the calendar, Christians thought of these periods as the “first days” and the “last days”—and in these last days, God sent us his son. He 1.2

The guys who put the western calendar together got the year of Messiah’s birth wrong; it’s six years off. The last days actually began 2,028 years ago.

And yeah, when you tell people this, they freak out a little. Because they thought the last days are the End Times. And the longer people believe something that’s not true—especially when we’ve made it a core belief!—the bigger the upheaval when someone finally corrects us. In fact, as you might’ve seen, some people refuse the correction, and insist they were right all along. You’re the one who’s wrong. You’ve been misled by evildoers. Maybe you’re an evildoer. And so on, right down the paranoid rabbit hole.

Usually when someone asks me “Are we living in the last days?” they want or expect me to answer “Oh obviously we are,” and confirm all their fearful beliefs about how all the current events have perfectly lined up with their End Times Timeline. In fact they’re kinda hoping I know some other connections between current events and the Timeline. Anything which supports their views.

They don’t want me to correct ’em with, “Actually the last days began when Jesus was born.” In fact I’ve found some of them already know this—“Yeah, yeah, I know the ‘last days’ began when Jesus was born; I mean End Times.” They don’t care that they’re using the wrong term; they’re just using the same term everyone else does. It doesn’t even matter to them. The only thing which matters is there’s evil out there. The Beast is putting together his evil, evil schemes. But they’re on the righteous side—and ready and eager to fight everyone who’s not.

Yeah, they wanna fight. Are we fighting alongside them? Or are they gonna fight us too? ’Cause honestly, they could go either way. We’re either a source of ammunition, or conflict.

There is no pretrib rapture.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 February

Years ago I was at a prayer meeting where we watched some video about the End Times… and I let slip I didn’t buy it. Yeah there’s a rapture; it’s in the bible; duh. Yeah there’s the second coming, when Jesus returns to take possession of his world, and we Christians join his procession. But the rapture takes place at the second coming. Not before any period of great tribulation, nor in the middle of it. That whole tribulation timeline? Not in the bible. At all.

Some of these folks reacted as if I’d just grown a second head.

It’s understandable. They grew up in churches which taught a pretrib rapture: Before the world is thrown into misery, with the Beast running amok and Christians getting persecuted and slaughtered, Jesus supposedly whisks us away so we needn’t live through any of it. We’re safe and sound in heaven with him, watching all the mayhem on earth, rooting for our left-behind family members to get saved… then somehow not get murdered by a world full of antichrists.

I grew up in such churches too. I’d heard this bushwa all my life. Most Christians who have, never bother to ask, “Where’s this found in the bible?” We don’t look for it. We don’t read Revelation; we read books about it by “prophecy scholars“ who claim to know what it means. I guess they read it so we don’t have to.

Hence Christians take the idea as a given. Love the idea. ’Cause they don’t have to suffer tribulation? Who’d want to? It’s like “going out the heavenly fire escape,” as my mom likes to put it: When the going gets tough, we Christians get to go.

So when I suggest there’s no pretrib rapture, to them it’s like saying there’s no heaven.

“You go right ahead and believe what you believe,” one of the prayer meeting members later told me. “You can stay here and ride out the tribulation. I’m gonna get raptured.”

“So basically I can go to hell with all the unbelievers?” I said.

“I didn’t mean that,” she backtracked.

“I know. But here’s the thing: I don’t wanna ride out the tribulation. Who seriously wants to live through tribulation? I’m no masochist; I wanna get raptured! I love the idea. It’s just it’s not from the bible.”

Jesus is returning. Sooner than you think.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 February
IMMEDIACY ɪ'mi.di.ə.si noun. Bringing one into direct, instant involvement with something. (Usually including a sense of urgency or excitement.)
2. Christian doctrine that Christ Jesus may return at any time.
[Immediacist ɪ'mi.di.ə.sɪst adjective.]

I don’t know when Jesus will return.

Neither do you. Neither does anyone. Neither did Jesus, Mk 13.32 although some Christians are mighty sure he found out once he ascended to heaven. And occasionally some nutjob will claim the Father told them when it’s gonna happen, and use the occasion to whip gullible Christians into a frenzy; maybe get ’em to join their death cult or something.

All of them have been, and will be, lying. Because Jesus said that info is none of our business.

Acts 1.6-7 NRSVue
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”

We don’t need to know when. We only need to know it’s gonna happen. Jesus is coming back.

It’s part of orthodox Christianity, y’know. Like the Apostles Creed has it, “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Any Christian who thinks Jesus isn’t coming back to us from heaven is heretic. Doesn’t mean they’re going to hell; just means they’ve gone horribly wrong.

And a big part of knowing Jesus is coming back, is knowing he can return at any time. We’re even instructed to watch for it. If we’re not, he’ll return when we don’t expect him. Which is why he intentionally warned us to expect him. Stay awake and watch for it. Mk 13.37 Don’t let him take you by surprise!

Luke 12.35-48 NRSVue
35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night or near dawn and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 That slave who knew what his master wanted but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required, and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

Much of the reason Jesus hasn’t yet returned, is because he’s giving the world many, many chances to repent before he returns. 2Pe 3.9 So take advantage of this time!Get right with God. Because once Jesus does return, time’s up. 2Pe 3.10

Millennium: When Jesus rules the world.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 February
MILLENNIUM mə'lɛ.ni.əm noun. Thousand years.
2. One of the thousand-year periods after Christ’s birth: The first millennium, the third millennium, etc.
3. Where one thousand-year period ends and another begins.
4. [theology] Christ Jesus’s reign on earth, represented in an apocalypse as a thousand-year age.
[Millennial mɪ'lɛ.ni.əl adjective.]

Whenever Christians talk about being “premillennial” or “amillenial,” no we’re not criticizing millennials, the kids born after the year 2000. We’re talking End Times theories. (We’ll use other terms to criticize millennials.)

The idea comes from Revelation. In one of its visions of Jesus’s second coming (oh, you didn’t know there are multiple visions of the second coming in Revelation? Y’oughta read it sometime), Jesus returns, brings us Christians back from the dead, throws Satan into the abyss for 10 centuries, and rules the world. At the end of that time, Satan gets out, starts a fight, Jesus ends it, judges the world, and ends the world—to be replaced by New Heaven/Earth.

Shall I quote the vision? Why not.

Revelation 20.1-10 NRSVue
1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years 3 and threw him into the pit and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
4 Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its brand on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.
7 When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea. 9 They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven and consumed them. 10 And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

At face value, it looks like Jesus is literally gonna reign over earth, as the human king of a political kingdom, for a literal thousand years. If Jesus returned in 1988 (he didn’t; I'm just picking a not-all-that-random example) it means the actual end of the world will take place in the year 2988. Mighty long time from now. But as resurrected Christians, who’ll no longer die, we’ll be alive to see it.

But bear in mind: This millennium is part of an apocalyptic vision. It’s not a literal millennium; apocalypses aren’t a literal anything. We honestly don’t know whether it represents a thousand-year stretch of time, a significantly long time-period, or just a significant time period of any length whatsoever.

Hence Christians have come up with various ideas of what it looks like, and generally I’m going over the main three. Handy-dandy chart time:


Three possible timelines of the future. That’ll make things clear as mud.

Amillennials: Those who figure the second coming is the End.

Since most Christians look at Revelation and throw up their hands in confusion, you’re gonna find most Christians are amillennial. That means they don‘t believe any such millennium is gonna happen. Christ Jesus is gonna rule the world… but it’s not gonna take the shape of a thousand-year earthly kingdom. He reigns over Christendom from heaven… and eventually we’re gonna die and go to him.

For amillennials (or amillennialists), they go with the idea we find everywhere else in the bible: Once Jesus shows up, it’s judgment day.

2 Peter 3.8-13 NRSVue
8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be destroyed with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and destroyed and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Simon Peter sure made it look like the second coming and the end of the world take place simultaneously. So… was Peter wrong, or did John misunderstand the vision he saw? Is this a massive bible discrepancy?

Amillennials point out it doesn’t need to be. Y’notice Peter said a millennium is like a day? (In context Peter’s trying to explain why it’s taking Jesus so very long to return to earth, 2Pe 3.3-7 but you realize nobody pays attention to context.) So since time’s all the same to God, the millennium doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to represent any time—and they’re pretty sure it doesn’t.

Since there are more passages about how the Lord’s Day (or the LORD’s Day, which is how we tend to translate the Old Testament’s י֣וֹם לַיהוָ֧ה/yom la-YHWH) is about death and mayhem and destruction, plenty of Christians figure that is what Jesus’s second coming is gonna look like. Jesus isn’t coming to save the world; they figure he did that already. He’s coming to destroy it. When the Lord Jesus appears in the clouds, if you haven’t joined his team by now, you’re toast.

To amillennals, Jesus doesn’t return to give humanity any last chances. There are none. This, the world we live in right now, is our last chance. That’s why Jesus is delaying his return. ’Cause once he returns it’s judgment day. There’s no thousand-year reign of grace and peace.

As a bible scholar I gotta agree with the amillennials: The weight of the bible passages found throughout the bible, throughout the prophets who write about the LORD’s Day, is in favor of no millennium at all. That’s why I can’t utterly dismiss their view: It has merit!

And it’s for this reason I’m never gonna suggest anyone take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to Jesus’s return: Pick your side now! After all, we never know when we’re gonna die. When it comes to death, I don’t see any second chances in the scriptures. Better be safe, than infinitely sorry.

But the reason I’m not in the amillennial camp: I can’t bring myself to totally dismiss Revelation 20.

Postmillennials: Those who figure we create the millennium.

The postmillennial interpretation has been found here and there throughout Christianity. It got really popular among Protestants during the modern era; largely from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. It’s the idea this is the millennium; the church age. Well… if we make it the church age; if we get off our collective arses and start following Jesus.

Once we Christians quit making excuses, quit sinning, revive the rest of humanity around us, fix society, fix the world, and make God’s kingdom out of the world: Then, then, Jesus will return to rule over us personally.

The idea appeared here and there over the centuries, but it didn’t really take off till the modern era. Because it’s based on modernism. I know; the label “modernism” has been slapped on so many things, it’s hard to know what anybody means by it anymore. (Most people assume I mean “getting Christianity with the times,” because modernizing regularly gets mixed up with modernism. Nope.) Modernism is a worldview which believes humans can reshape our world into whatever we want. So once we realize this, we can fix the world! We can fix everything. We can solve all humanity’s problems with science and money and happy thoughts. Think Star Trek, which is entirely based on the idea—although it’s nontheist instead of Christian, because creator Gene Roddenberry believed religion was another problem for humanity to do away with. Guess only Klingons and Bajorans and Vulcans get to be religious.

Since humanity is selfish, a nontheist utopia is an oxymoron, as Marxists kept discovering. The only way we could truly fix anything is through the Holy Spirit’s power. Thing is, Christians have tried to create utopias many times throughout history… and failed, because sin got into the works and gummed ’em up. And in some cases they were doomed from the beginning. The National Socialists’ idea of a thousand-year Reich (yep, they totally borrowed postmillennial ideas to sell their platform!) was fueled by nationalism, racism, and war, and are probably the best example of how much humanity can suck when we let the wrong people take charge. “Make Germany Great Again” made Germany suck.

The world wars woke up Christians to these facts, which is why we don’t see a lot of postmillennials anymore. Or it takes the form of Christians who claim the Christian Era is the millennium—that Jesus rules the world, or at least the Christian world, right this very minute. (If so, he’s making a real mess of things!) But the view we’re already in the millennium, tends to look and function exactly like amillennialism: The world goes on till Jesus returns, and then it ends.

Premillennials: Jesus returns, and brings his kingdom with him.

Premillennials (like, admittedly, me) take our view from Revelation 20. After the second coming, Rv 19.11-16 after the Beast and false prophet are thrown into the fire, and their allies are killed and eaten by birds (yuck), Rv 19.17-21 Satan itself gets locked in the abyss (KJV “bottomless pit”), a sort of prison for devils. And this leaves a clear path for Messiah to rule the world unhindered.

All those people who aren’t Christian, don’t know Jesus, don’t even think they wanna know Jesus? They finally get to meet him. The imaginary versions of Jesus in their heads will be irrelevant: Actual living, breathing Jesus will be walking around on earth again, interacting with people. Christians do a poor job of demonstrating what he’s like, but now Jesus will do that himself. Pagans get to see him as he really is. Skeptics have to deal with reality.

Put into special positions of responsibility and authority are the martyrs, those who died for Jesus and resisted tribulation. Rv 20.4 Some preachers claim this includes every Christian who was resurrected at Jesus’s second coming. 1Th 4.15-17 Including them, they suppose. (They hope.) But it all depends on what they did for Jesus. If you call the average Christian’s life in the United States “suffering for Christ,” I think you’re seriously delusional. Jesus has in mind people who really did give up everything for him, Mk 10.29-31 not wannabes who assume pushback is persecution.

These resurrected Christians will rule the world under Jesus. And finally the world will be led right. With justice and fairness. With grace, forgiveness, and mercy. By judges who share Jesus’s character, and rule like he does. No more do we have to worry about hypocrites and frauds in positions of power; Jesus’s officers won’t be anything like the politicians or pastors we’re used to. They’ll be good rulers. They’ll fix the world.

Oh, it won’t be heaven. Not for another 10 centuries. But heaven’s kingdom will rule the world, and rule it properly. It’s something wonderful to look forward to.

Wait, what about judgment and wrath and all that?

There are both premillennials and amillennials whose ideas of the End have nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with fire and bloodshed and vengeance and mayhem. It’s all their dark Christian fantasies come to life, as everything and everyone they don’t like gets torched.

All the fruit of the Spirit which Jesus demonstrates, which the Spirit’s trying to grow in us? Irrelevant. God’s gonna smite the wicked, and we get to watch with vengeful glee.

If you’re getting the idea I think this view of the End is twisted and sick, good. But it’s fairly common among twisted and sick Christians. They want evil people to suffer, not repent. They want sinners to die, not come to Jesus. Twisted amillennials imagine Jesus returning to kill all the wicked and destroy the world. Twisted postmillennials willingly offer to kill the wicked themselves. And twisted premillennials also imagine Jesus returning to kill the wicked, and pave his kingdom over their corpses.

True, the prophets’ writings about the LORD’s Day make it sound dire. Like God’s totally gonna stomp on the wicked. Yet even in these passages, it sounds like… God’s coming to save the world. Save the oppressed from their oppressors. Save the needy from the wicked. Save Israel from its enemies.

Now, God’s prophets never state the oppressed, the needy, the Israelis, are believers. Instead they point out God’s in favor of any needy people, Hebrew or not. God objects to other nations oppressing their needy. Any needy. He plays no favorites.

When you really read these LORD’s Day passages, y’start to notice they generally sound like the Exodus—when God saved the Hebrews, then made them his people. Or like the Christians, when Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. Ro 5.8 The LORD’s Day sounds like a day that’s awful for wicked oppressors… but also a day when God gives grace to the humble, makes right what’s wrong, and is the savior for people who don’t even realize they have a savior yet. (After all, we Christians have done a really lousy job of showing them so.)

If God stays true to his character, even on Judgment Day, I can’t expect wrath and anger and destruction right away. Oh, those things’ll come eventually; they always do. But I’ve always recognized the millennium as a repeat of what God did in the Exodus—this time on a global scale. And better: This time with the king living among his people in person. This time with the priests not just limited to the Levites, and the prophets not just limited to the Seventy. God’s gonna show people what his kingdom was always meant to look like. Then present them the choice to accept or reject it.

I expect for many, it’ll be just what they’ve always dreamt of. And for others, for the people who want nothing to do with Jesus, for the self-described Christians who really only pay Jesus lip service, it’ll be horrifying; it’s what they always feared. But there’ll be no more nebulous speculation… as there is these days about what the millennium might look like.

The second coming of Christ Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 February

After the tribes of Israel were dragged off into exile by the Assyrians and Babylonians, they really started digging into and holding onto the prophecies of a coming messiah. Messiah is what they called their kings; it means “anointed person,” ’cause at his coronation they poured a hornful of oil over him to represent the Holy Spirit coming to empower their king. (Presuming the Holy Spirit did empower their king. Some of those kings, not so much.) Anyway, they figured God would restore the kingdom of Israel and give ’em a really good messiah. The best messiah. Better than King David ben Jesse; he’d rule them righteously and victoriously, and defeat all their enemies easily. Maybe even conquer the whole world, just like the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians were kinda trying to do.

Jesus the Nazarene did not meet their expectations. But to be fair, the ancient Israelis overlaid a whole lot of their prejudices atop all the messianic prophecies: They wanted him to destroy their enemies with death and carnage. He wants to destroy his enemies by getting them to repent and become his friends. God is love; we humans most definitely aren’t.

The first step in Jesus’s conquest of the world was defeating sin and death, which he achieved in the year 33. The second step is what he’s currently doing now: His followers, us Christians, are meant to apply that salvation, be the light of the world, love our neighbors, and win ’em to Jesus’s side.

And the next step is when Jesus comes back to earth, personally, to continue that work in person.

Yes of course he’s coming back. He made that clear in the beginning of Acts:

Acts 1.1-11 NRSVue
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Based on this and other scriptures, we Christians expect—once God decides the time is right—Jesus will return to earth. In person. As the head of an invading army of angels and at least 2 billion newly-resurrected Christians. To personally supervise God’s kingdom on earth, which he will rule himself as king.

We call this the second coming, or second advent, or in theologian-speak, parousia (Greek παρουσία/parusía, “coming”) of Christ. His first coming was when he was born, of course, and shared the good news of the kingdom with first-century Israel. We don’t count any of the many other times he visits people on earth, like he did with Paul, Ac 9.3-5 as formal “comings”—formal as they might feel to those people whose lives are significantly changed by seeing him.

Jesus’s second coming is an orthodox Christian doctrine: It’s something all true Christians are expected to believe. Various Christians insist it’s really not, but it’s in the creeds—so if you claim he’s not returning, you’ve gone heretic. Doesn’t mean Jesus can’t and won’t save you regardless; it only means you’ve rejected something the scriptures plainly teach, ’cause your doubts won you over. There’s nothing wrong with doubting, but there’s everything wrong with not trusting Jesus. He said he’s coming back for us, and he is.

John 14.1-3 NRSVue
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
 
Revelation 22.12-13 NRSVue
12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

Heavens!

by K.W. Leslie, 28 October
HEAVEN 'hɛ.vən noun. The dwelling place of God, his angels, and debatably good humans after they die. Traditionally depicted as above the sky.
2. A euphemism for God himself. [“Sin displeases heaven.”]
3. The sky, perceived as a vault containing the sun, moon, planets, and stars.
4. A place of bliss. [“This is heaven!”]
5. Short for the kingdom of heaven, i.e. God’s kingdom.
6. The state of being in God’s presence, namely after death.
[Heavenly 'hɛv.ən.li adjective.]

As you can see, there are multiple definitions of our word “heaven.” But when Christians talk about heaven, we mean the dwelling place of God. Right?

Not really. In fact not usually.

In my experience, when Christians talk about heaven, we’re actually talking about the kingdom of heaven. In other words, God’s kingdom. Which is meant to happen here on earth. We Christians are supposed to be already living like it’s here—and when Jesus returns, he’ll fully set it up and run it. But too often Christians act like this kingdom does not happen on earth, and never will: It’ll happen in heaven. In the future. After we die. When we do stuff in heaven, “heaven” is always way later. Or we describe the stuff we’ll be doing in New Jerusalem… which is actually in New Heaven, which is not even the same heaven the scriptures typically mean.

I listed six definitions of heaven. No, I’m not gonna therefore say there are six heavens, like C.S. Lewis did when he wrote about four loves. There are likely more definitions of heaven than even that.

But there are Christians who claim there are multiple heavens. Not just the current heaven, and the New Heaven of Revelation 21. There’s the seven heavens of Dante Alighieri’s Paradisio, the 10 heavens of the Pharisees, and the three heavens which you’ll hear Evangelicals talk about ’cause they’ve neither read Paradisio nor 1 Enoch.

Confused yet? Maybe a little. Hope not. Let’s start with the bible’s descriptions of the heavens.

The four hells.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 October

C.S. Lewis famously wrote a book called The Four Loves, about four of the five Greek words which tend to be translated “love.” Two, ἀγάπη/agápi and φίλος/fílos, are in the New Testament; two, ἔρος/éros and στοργή/storyí, are in the Septuagint; and Lewis skipped ξενία/xenía, which is also in the Septuagint. Lewis wanted to highlight the first four, talk about the slight differences in meaning, and riff on them about how people love in different ways.

People hear of this book and assume, “Wow, Greek is so precise and exact. It’s got four different words for love!” Yeah but so do we. These five words can just as easily be translated charity, friendship, romance, affection, and courtesy. Check out any thesaurus and you’ll find we have way more than five words for love. English is just as precise as we want it be.

I say this by way of introduction: There are three ancient Greek words we tend to translate “hell.” Problem is, same as with love, translators don’t always bother to distinguish between them. Some bibles do, and good on ’em. But whether our bible translations do or don’t, it’s important Christians know there’s a difference, lest we continue to misinform people about what hell is, and who goes there.

I said three words, right? Why’d I title this piece “The four hells”? Well first I gotta deal with popular culture’s wildly inaccurate idea of hell.

The Dives and Lazarus Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 October

Luke 16.19-31.

This story is often called the story of the rich man and Lazarus—or Lazarus and the rich man, depending on who oughta come first, and since it’s not really about Lazarus, stands to reason the rich man should come first. Traditionally this man’s been called Dives (usually pronounced 'daɪ.viz instead of like the verb) ’cause that’s what he’s called in verse 19 in the Vulgate; dives is Latin for “rich.” So I’m gonna call him Dives; it saves time.

Every once in a while some literalist insists this isn’t actually a parable. This is the only story where Jesus gives someone a name, so they figure it must mean something. So they claim Jesus was straight-up talking about an actual pauper named Lazarus. Some of ’em even claim this Lazarus is Jesus’s friend Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus later raised from the dead Jn 11.1-44 —and this is how Lazarus died. It’s a theory which makes no sense, because Lazarus’s family asked Jesus to come cure him; they didn’t just dump Lazarus at the door of the local idle rich guy, hoping he might uncharacteristically do something.

On the other extreme, we have people who insist this story is entirely fiction. Primarily because they have very different beliefs about the afterlife. This, they insist, is not what happens after people die: We go to heaven. Or hell. We’re immediately resurrected and live in New Jerusalem from now on, or we live in some glorified spiritual form while we wait for our resurrection, or we get to become angels like Mormons believe, or we otherwise become powerful guardian spirits like Daoists believe.

In some cases they’re dispensationalists who claim maybe this used to be the way the afterlife worked, but not anymore. There’s a popular Christian myth called “the harrowing of hell”: Before Jesus died to atone for our sins, it seems God saved nobody by his grace, and therefore nobody but the very best people could get into paradise. (Just Abraham, and a few others who were as good as Lazarus.) Nobody else had good enough karma, so they were forced to wait in hell till Jesus died. Once he died, he went to hell—but with keys, to unlock the place. He stepped on the devil Belial’s neck, freed all the Old Testament saints, and took ’em with him to heaven. And now, nobody experiences anything like Jesus describes in this story. We go to heaven.

Considering that God isn’t limited by time whatsoever, it makes no sense that he can’t apply Jesus’s then-future atonement to the ancients’ sins. Especially since their sins didn’t hinder him with having relationships with them before they died. Nah; both the literalists and the myth-believers have it wrong. This is a parable. Lazarus isn’t a literal guy. But this is, loosely, what the afterlife looks like. Then, and now.

And it’s a warning to those of us who are wealthy, but don’t bother to use our wealth to further God’s kingdom. If all we care about is our own comforts, we may not experience any such comfort in the afterlife. Billionaires beware.

Luke 16.19-31 KWL
19 “Somebody is wealthy.
He’s wearing purple and white linen, partying daily, in luxury.
20 Some pauper named Lazarus was thrown out by his gate,
covered in open sores, 21 desiring to be fed
with whatever fell from the plutocrat’s table,
but the dogs which came are licking his sores.
22 The pauper comes to die,
to be carried off by the angels to Abraham’s fold.
The plutocrat also dies and is entombed.
23 In the afterlife, the plutocrat lifts up his eyes—
he’s getting tortured in the pit—and sees Abraham far away,
and Lazarus in his folds.
24 Calling out, the plutocrat says, ‘Father Abraham!
Have mercy on me, and send Lazarus,
so he might dip his fingertip in water, and might cool my tongue,
because I suffer great pain in these flames!’
25 Abraham says, ‘Child, remember: You received your good things in your life,
and Lazarus likewise received evil.
Now, here, he is assisted—and you suffer.
26 In all this space between us and you,
a large gap was fixed so those who want to come to you from here, can’t.
Nor can they pass from there to us.’
27 The plutocrat says, ‘Then I ask you, father,
might you send Lazarus to my father’s house?
28 For I have five siblings—so Lazarus might urge them,
lest they also come to this place in the pit.’
29 Abraham says, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. Heed them.’
30 The plutocrat says, ‘No, father Abraham!
But if anyone comes back from the dead to them, they’ll repent!’
31 Abraham tells him, ‘If they don’t heed Moses and the Prophets,
neither will they be convinced when someone rises from the dead.’ ”

When supernatural gifts will no longer be needed.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 September

1 Corinthians 13.7-13.

I grew up among Christians who loved to use this passage of 1 Corinthians to make the claim God turned off the miracles. He never did, but a number of Christians claim he did, because they’re entirely sure they never saw a miracle, and consider their experiences the norm. Plus they subscribe to certain End Times theories which kinda require the miracles to be deactivated till the tribulation hits.

So when Paul and Sosthenes wrote the following, they put a cessationist spin on it. Here, I’ll quote it in their favorite translation (and, often, mine) the King James Version.

1 Corinthians 13.8-10 KJV
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

The passage is about love (Greek ἀγάπη/agápi, KJV “charity”) and how we oughta see it in supernatural gifts. That when it’s not there, the gifts are undermined. Pulling a verse from this passage and claiming there are no such gifts anymore, doesn’t just take the verse out of context, but flips its meaning 180 degrees. Just the sort of thing the devil might do, but I don’t blame Satan for cessationism; I blame Christianism. I blame people who claim to believe in God, and love the trappings of church and faith, but don’t know him at all, and think he’s far away instead of near.

When the apostles refer to “that which is perfect” in verse 10, these cessationists claim they mean the bible. Even though this passage is in no way talking about bible; it’s about love. It’s about how love exists forever, but certain supernatural gifts come to an end—at the End, when we interact with Jesus face to face, 1Co 13.12 and there’ll be no reason to receive these things supernaturally when Jesus can just tell us this stuff naturally.

But cessationists insist they came to an end already, once the bible was complete. In the 50s when Paul wrote his letters, the New Testament was still under construction, and wouldn’t be complete till John wrote Revelation decades later—so the apostles still needed prophecy and supernatural knowledge, ’cause they couldn’t write bible without it. But once the NT was complete, and God decided it was “that which is perfect,” the supernatural abilities would fail, cease, and vanish away. Gone till the End Times, ’cause Revelation describes a world where miracles happen (duh), so cessationists figure God’ll have to bring ’em back at that time. But not till then.

The Wheat and Weeds Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 July

Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43.

Presenting another of Jesus’s parables about agriculture. It appears nowhere but Matthew, and it happens right after the Four Seeds Story. Mt 13.18-23 Historically Christians have considered it a parable of the End Times.

Matthew 13.24-30 KWL
24 Jesus presents another parable to them, telling them,
“Heaven’s kingdom compares to a person planting a good seed in his field.
25 As the person sleeps his enemy comes,
plants weeds in the middle of the grain, and goes away.
26 When the stalks sprout and produce fruit, the weeds also appear.
27 The householder’s slaves, approaching, tell him, ‘Master, you plant good seed in your field, right?
So where have these weeds come from?’
28 The master tells them, ‘A person—an enemy—did this.’
The slaves tell him, ‘So do you want us to go out and pluck them?’
29 The master says, ‘No, lest plucking the weeds uproots the grain with them.
30 Leave them all to grow together till the harvest.
At harvest time, I’ll tell the harvesters, “Pluck the weeds first, and tie them in bundles to burn them.
Gather the grain into my barn.” ’ ”

I’m gonna point out something they tend to skip: Notice whenever the apostles describe the End in the scriptures, it looks like Jesus first raptures his Christians and gathers us into his kingdom, and then the rest of the world gets dealt with. But in the Wheat and Weeds Story, the master orders his harvesters to first pluck the weeds. So this story’s timeline, and the typical End Times timelines… don’t sync up.

Hmmm. Well, I’ll leave you to fret about that, and talk botany.


Left, vetch. Right, darnel.

This story’s also called the Wheat and Tares story. Wheat is how σῖτος/sítos traditionally gets translated, though the word really means “grain,” and the KJV sometimes even translates it “corn.” Mk 4.28, Ac 7.12 (No, they don’t mean maize; that’s what “corn” means in the United States. Elsewhere “corn” is just a synonym for grain.) Sítos could refer to wheat, barley, or oats. But likely wheat, ’cause of what takes place in this story.

Tares is the old-timey word for vetch (Vicia sativa), a type of weed which grows all over the planet. Looks like wheat till it starts growing leaves and flowers. It’s also kinda toxic to humans, although bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia) is edible, and sometimes the poor ate it in medieval Europe. And fava beans (Vicia faba) are used in all sorts of dishes.

However, vetch is what John Wycliffe imagined ζιζάνιον/zizánion meant, ’cause of what he knew about English agriculture. Later English translations, like the Geneva Bible and King James Version, followed Wycliffe’s lead. But Jesus isn’t English: Which plant might middle easterners have called zizánia? And most historians figure it’s darnel ryegrass (Lolium temulentum, “false wheat,” which ancient Jews called זוֹנִין/zonín). It’s another weed which grows everywhere, and likewise looks just like wheat… till the seeds appear. Wheat turns brown, and darnel turns black.

If it’s harmless, why did the ancients make a big deal about darnel? Because darnel is very susceptible to Neotyphodium funguses. If you eat any infected darnel, the symptoms are nausea and intoxication. (The temulentum in darnel’s scientific name means “drunk.”) And of course it might kill you. Hence people sometimes refer to darnel as poison.

So Jesus’s audience realized the serious problem these specific weeds posed. The rest of us, who only read “tares” or “weeds” in our bibles, not so much. Weeds are inconvenient, and use the water meant for our crops, but otherwise they sound kinda harmless, and it should be easy to sort them out, right? Um… not so much with darnel. And not so harmless.

Typically farmers waited till harvest time to sort out which was which. Most of ’em did as Jesus described his householder advising: Wait till harvest, then pluck and burn the darnel, lest their seeds infest a future crop. Which the seeds did anyway, ’cause seeds get loose.

The kingdom, Jesus said, is like this. I leave it to the now-worried “prophecy scholars” as to how close a match it is.

Stay on the lookout for the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 May

1 Thessalonians 5.6-11.

In the original text of 1 Thessalonians it was all one continuous stream. No punctuation, no sentences, no paragraphs. We had to figure these things out by their context. The sentences are easy enough to figure out, but naturally Christians are gonna disagree on the rest. Hence different Greek New Testaments disagree on where the paragraph breaks should go… and since I’ve been writing about this book a paragraph at a time, y’might notice I’m not precisely following any one GNT.

  • Textus Receptus and United Bible Societies’ edition: One big paragraph from 1-11.
  • Nestle-Aland: One big paragraph, but they capitalize the first word in the sentences which they think might be the start of a new subject, and therefore are debatably new paragraphs.
  • Tyndale House: Four paragraphs. 1-3, 4-5, 6-10, and 11 by itself.
  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Emphatic Diaglott has 1-4, and 5 all the way to the end of the chapter. But I don’t think its focus was on proper paragraph breaks. (Or on accuracy of translation either, but that’s another discussion.)

Anywho, today’s passage continues along the same theme as the previous: Be prepared for the second coming. ’Cause ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. Mt 24.44 KJV Anytime now.

1 Thessalonians 5.6-11 KWL
6 So then we shouldn’t be asleep like the others,
Instead we should be awake, and we should be sober:
7 Sleepers sleep at night, and drinkers get drunk at night.
8 We, being in the day, should be sober,
wearing a chestplate of faith and love, and a helmet of salvation hope,
9 so God doesn’t assign us to wrath, but get us saved
through our Master, Christ Jesus, 10 who died for us
so that whether we’re awake or sleeping, we might live together with him.
11 So help one another and build one another
into the one body—just like you’re doing.

The pagans of this world will do their thing. Pagans gonna pagan. They’ll ignore what Jesus is doing; they’ll get stoned and wasted, or distract themselves some other way. But we’re meant to be holy. We don’t do like they do. We aren’t to let the world pass us by. We’re to engage with it, be active in it, point others towards God’s kingdom—and practice a little self-control for once. Love our neighbors. Don’t be dicks.

Because supposedly, we’re living lives which follow the Holy Spirit. We’re choosing to love and trust God. We’re altering our mindsets to embrace the idea God wants to save us, not destroy us; wants to reform the wicked, not be forced to smite them. For it’s true. God loves humanity.

And whether we actively live godly lives, or suck as hard as dark Christians who only flinch at everything with fear and rage, God loves us, and intends to live forever with us. Let’s get ready for that—so it’s not so drastic of a culture shock when Jesus returns.