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

Four main End Times theories.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 June

At some future point, Jesus will return. Mt 24.42, Ac 1.11, 1Th 4.16-17, 2Th 2.1, Rv 22.20 Not maybe, not we really hope he might: Will. It’s in the creeds; it’s considered orthodox Christianity. Any self-described Christian who claims Jesus isn’t coming back, or who describes his return as metaphorical or “spiritual” (by which they mean imaginary) is heretic. Sorry, heretics. He’s literally returning.

But even though Christians are unanimous in our belief “from [heaven] he will come to judge the living and the dead,” we’re not universal as to how it’ll happen. Jesus didn’t give us specifics. He gave us apocalypses, images which represent what God’s up to, but aren’t meant to be taken literally. (Not that some Christians don’t try.) His Olivet Discourse—the bit in the synoptic gospels where he talks about the End Times—and his revelations to John in Revelation are full of such apocalypses. Jesus told us what the End is like, but not what it is. The details are not for us to know.

Acts 1.7 KWL
Jesus told them, “It’s not for you to know times or timing.
That, the Father sets by his own free will.”

The Father doesn’t set it by anything we do, and certainly not our timelines of End Times events. We have to trust him to be in charge of it, and let things unfold as God chooses.

Since Christians aren’t agreed as to how the End comes, most of us agree to disagree. Most. Some of us are absolutely certain it’ll only happen the way we say it will, and have declared war on any Christian who teaches otherwise. I know I’ve certainly been called heretic by some of ’em. Sure glad those folks aren’t in charge of what’s orthodox and what isn’t.

But as far as End Times interpretations are concerned, there are four major camps we Christians fall into. So I thought I’d introduce you to them. Yes, I’ll admit upfront I fall into the preterist camp. But again, you’re not heretic if you go for one of the other views. Wrong probably, but not heretic.

End of Days.

The most popular and common view is the End of Days. This is the one you’ll find in nearly every secular Hollywood movie. Basically it runs down like so.

  • Evil starts to gather its forces for one big final showdown between them and Christ. Plagues, pestilence, horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Beast, etc.
  • Good people try to fight off evil… and lose. (Because evil’s just so powerful.)
  • Jesus returns and instantly wipes out the Beast and its forces. (Because as powerful as evil might be, Jesus is almighty.)
  • It’s the end of the world. Planet goes foom. Either it’s annihilated in the force of Jesus’s return, or he snaps his fingers and makes it go away. Gone.
  • The righteous suddenly find themselves in heaven, where they’ll live forever.

You’ll notice there’s a lot of End Times imagery missing from this scenario. Where’s the great tribulation? Where’s the rapture? Where’s the resurrection? Where’s the millennium? It’s like the short version of the End Times.

It’s because the End of Days is based on the idea all the apocalyptic visionary stuff is happening behind the scenes. They don’t play out in our human history; they happen in angelic history, in heavenly history. They represent the major events of the angelic war which has been going on since creation. But they don’t have a lot to do with us. We’re minor figures in the cosmic plan, so we don’t see these events play out. We just go straight to heaven.

The whole point of this view is heaven. Apparently all this time when people died, they didn’t go to paradise; they went directly to heaven, and have been alive there. (Got resurrected somehow, so we’re in tangible, physical bodies.) Heaven is what Jesus meant all along by “the kingdom of heaven,” and it’s New Jerusalem, New Earth already. When the End of Days come, Jesus simply takes the rest of his people to heaven. It’s kinda like he killed everybody when he blew up the world. Except he didn’t. Or did he?…

Yeah, very few of these ideas come directly from bible. They come indirectly, through folk Christianity and Christian myths. They’re guesses about the End, made by people who figured Revelation is too confusing, so they skipped it and created an End Times view which puts ’em straight into heaven. Not even New Heaven.

So to these folks, any world-ending event might mean the End of Days. A pandemic, an extinction-level meteorite, a global thermonuclear war, climate change; heck, even a space alien invasion. Anything which might kill every last human on earth… which sorta does Jesus’s work of coming to get us, and they’ll even figure that’s how he pulls it off. Why should the Son of Man appear in the clouds, when a solar flare might end the world and send us to heaven all the same?

As you can tell, this scenario really doesn’t even need God to get involved. It’s probably why so many pagans are okay with it as their End Times scenario too.

Utopia.

The word utopia was coined by St. Thomas More. It’s Latin for “no place,” because his book Utopia is a fictional story about an ideal place, somewhere in the Americas, which really exists nowhere. But the idea of a perfect society has been around since Plato’s Republic and before. And Christians earnestly believed, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we might actually achieve it. For the longest time it was the next-most-popular End Times view:

  • Humans decide to stop fighting and scratching and biting one another, and work together, under God, for the good of the world.
  • We unify our economies, unify our governments, pass laws eliminating bloodshed and poverty and promoting peace and harmony, and people actually follow these laws instead of trying to create loopholes for themselves.
  • We live in comfort and ease, solving every new problem we come across with grace and generosity. What a beautiful world this will be; what a glorious time to be free.
  • Jesus, seeing we’ve finally achieved the kingdom he wanted for us, returns to personally reign over us all.

No tribulation, ’cause the pre-utopian times count as tribulation. The Beast and its minions were defeated back when we finally got serious about sorting out the world’s problems. It’s definitely a postmillennial perspective. And it sounds an awful lot like Star Trek… which stands to reason.

Utopianism and utopian science fiction like Star Trek are based on modernism, the belief humans can re-create or improve our environment through science and technology. It’s the product of the late Enlightenment era, and it’s debatable whether Christian thinkers either invented it or adopted it. Modernists all share the same optimistic vision of the future: If we buckle down and get serious about humanity’s progress (or, for Christian humanists, get serious about Jesus’s teachings) we can actually create heaven here on earth. Isn’t this what Jesus wanted us to do?

After two world wars, the utopian view fell out of fashion. Germany used to be considered one of the more “enlightened” civilizations in the world, and attempted to create a thousand-year kingdom on earth… but turns out they were led by antichrists, and in the process committed some horrific evils. Other attempts at creating utopias, and their spectacular failures, convinced most Christians to realize utopianism isn’t really part of human DNA: Total depravity is. So Christians quit utopianism to seek a more postmodern worldview: One which recognizes human depravity and doubts “progress.” (Sometimes too much, but that’s another discussion.)

There’s still a lot of modernism in American Christianity though. Our conservatives love to claim we were founded as a Christian nation, as a special and chosen people, by God-fearing founding fathers; and if we just returned to biblical standards and principles, we could fix our nation’s problems and turn the United States into God’s kingdom. And y’know, even Christians who don’t believe in utopianism fall for this rhetoric on a regular basis. It just sounds so patriotic… and blind to the fact Germany tried the very same thing, and look where they went. All it takes is a few hypocrites in power to turn a noble idea into hell on earth.

Nope; Jesus has got to rule his kingdom personally. Unregenerate humans can’t. And once Jesus conquers the world, he’s overthrowing every government. Including ours. No matter how “Christian” we make it appear.

Darbyism.

Whenever an End Times scenario claims there’s a rapture separate from Jesus’s return, whether it happens before or during tribulation, we’re talking Darbyism. I wrote a lot about Darbyism elsewhere. If you want details about how many of ’em think tribulation looks, there’s always my old series on There’s a New World Coming, which you can plow through if you want. Or you can just read this summary.

John Nelson Darby believed God turned off the miracles in the present day, and in order to make his view jibe with the bible, adopted dispensationalism, the claim God has multiple plans of salvation. In the present day we’re saved by grace, but before Jesus died we were saved by works. Dispensationalism isn’t a proper interpretation of the bible, but Darby got it to “work” by quoting a lot out of context.

Okay, if God turned off the miracles, what about the End Times? The apocalypses make it sound like it’s full of miracles. Darby’s solution was futurism: Any End Times prophecy (or anything Darbyists claim is an End Times prophecy) takes place during a seven-year hellscape in the future. But Christians will sit out either some of it (“midtribulationism”) or all of it (“pretribulationism”) because Jesus secretly raptures us away from it. ’Cause we’re his favorites.

Goes like so.

  • The world’s Christians (the real Christians, anyway) unexpectedly vanish in the rapture.
  • The Beast takes over the world, promising peace and security, and actually creates peace in the middle east for once. But halfway through the seven years, the Beast breaks the peace to go to war with Israel—whom God miraculously defends.
  • Various plagues and disasters meanwhile smite the world and its wicked.
  • The Beast attempts one big final battle… and Jesus invades, destroying the Beast and its armies.
  • Jesus, his Christians, and Israel take over the world, and run it for a thousand years.
  • Satan tries to raise one more battle, but Jesus easily wins. Then Jesus raises everybody from the dead, judges the world, throws the wicked into hell, and replaces earth with New Earth.

Because Darbyists tend to be very detailed—they claim to know the exact sequence of events during the End Times—they appeal anyone who desperately wants to know about the End. Even if they believe they’ll be raptured out first.

But since no two Darbyists believe precisely alike, each must publicize their own specific views. Hence Darbyists write End Times books like you wouldn’t believe. Go to any Christian bookstore and they dominate the shelf. They have “prophecy conferences” galore, where you can go listen to a bunch of of ’em unroll their timelines and tell you how it plays out. Look up End Times on the internet and nearly all the sites are of the Darbyist persuasion. They even have study bibles, which’ll show you just which verses they cherry-pick to construct their timelines.

Like I state in my New World Coming articles, they’re all wet. I grew up in churches which are totally into their view, which is why I know it so well. But I hang my hat on the preterist view.

Preterism.

Jesus told his students about the End, but primarily about the near future. That future came and went. The great tribulation already happened. The bulk of those prophecies came to pass in our past. It’s history now. The only thing left, which can happen at any time, is Jesus’s return. We call this view preterism.

Not “partial preterism.” A partial preterist believes only some End Times prophecies are in the past, but some are in the future. Fr’instance they might claim the Beast came and went, but there’s still a great tribulation coming. Or some of Revelation’s plague are past, but others are yet to come.

Nor “full preterism.” That’s what we call people who claim Jesus already has returned, and is ruling the world. (If so, he’s really bungling it!) You gotta either be nuts, or have some really distorted views on God, to think Jesus has returned already.

But properly, preterists recognize the only thing we have left to look forward to is the soon, unexpected, and rapid return of Christ Jesus. The skies roll back, the trumpet blasts, the angel shouts, the Lord descends, every Christian (dead and alive) gets transformed, joins him in the air, and the billions of us proceed to Jerusalem where he takes over the world. It’s gonna freak out everyone. But it’s gonna be awesome.

The great tribulation? Happened in the year 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Regular tribulation is the usual state of Christianity; Christians are still the most persecuted religion in the world, and only comfortable, safe Christians in the United States are under the delusion it’s the circumstances of a different dispensation. The Beast? There’ve been a bunch of power-mad world leaders who are decent candidates for the Beast. And so on. Go through all the other prophecies in the bible: Either they’re done—or they don’t have to be done till Jesus returns. Like all Israel getting saved. Once their Messiah arrives, he’ll sort them out. Till then, keep doing as we’re doing: Share him with them. ’Cause we’d all prefer they rejoice at his return, not freak out like the pagans.

Nope, nothing more has to happen first. ’Cause they’ve happened already. They’ve had 20 centuries to happen. You can figure out when they happened, assuming you didn’t skim that part of your history classes. Or if you haven’t already assumed, as the Darbyists teach, that those events can’t be fulfillments, ’cause futurism. But only Jesus happens in the future. Everything else got out of his way.

Some preterists call ourselves historicists, ’cause the End Times events of Revelation describe Christian history. (The horsemen of the apocalypse, Rv 6.1-8 fr’instance: The white horse’s rider, Christ, conquered the Roman Empire, and the other horses describe the backlash ever since against the spread of Christendom.) They reserve the term preterist for the “full preterists,” and mock “preterists” right along with anti-preterists.

Yeah, there are other theories.

I went through the main four theories, which you’ll find among most Christians; probably 99 percent of us. There are of course others. In fact, you might be one of those exceptions, grousing, “You didn’t cover my view.” No, I didn’t.

But I will cover this fifth one: Apathy.

“I’m a pan-millennialist,” a Christian of my acquaintance liked to joke. “I believe it’ll all pan out in the end.” A lot of Christians, fed up with “prophecy scholars” who know nothing about either prophecy or scholarship, have decided this is precisely the way to go. My panmillennialist acquaintance didn’t wanna get into End Times squabbles. He didn’t care which came first, the chicken or the Beast. He just figured Jesus would come for him someday, and he was fine with that.

And of course Jesus will. The reason we Christians fret about the End Times (“What’s gonna happen?” “Who’s the Beast?” “Must stop the one-world government!” “Must fight the New World Order!” “They’re out to kill us all!”) is fear. Since knowledge is power, we figure if we get a little End Times knowledge, maybe we can have some control over our future. But here’s the reality: We have no such control. Jm 4.13-16 Because Jesus has it.

Jesus holds the keys to death and hades, Rv 1.18 not us. It makes not a whit of difference what we know about the End. But because we think it might, Jesus preemptively stopped us from foolishly trying to control or change things… and that’s why he gave us nothing but apocalypses to work with. We get to know the future of a very few things. Jn 16.13 We don’t get to know the future of the world. Anyone who claims they figured it out, is simply trying to sell you a book or conference or video. Or they’re nuts. Either way, there are no experts on End Times prophecy. This stuff remains in the hands of the LORD, and that’s best.

What we do get to know is that in the End, God wins. Jesus reigns. We live again, and live forever. No more tears and sorrow. Evil is dealt with. Faith is rewarded. Let it be enough.

And if anyone, anyone teaches it’s okay to suspend God’s commands because the End is coming—if anyone values their own life above God’s kingdom, if anyone values their own interpretations over God’s grace and power, and if anyone tries to exploit human fears for fun and profit—they’re wrong. Don’t let fear become a justification for evil. Those behaviors put us outside God’s kingdom, Ga 5.17-21 even if we think we’re doing them for the kingdom’s sake. We’re not. They’re not. Don’t stand for it.

Tribulation, great tribulation, and not-so-great tribulation.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 May
TRIBULATION tri.bu.la.tion noun. Great suffering.
2. The cause of great suffering.
3. An End Times period of suffering around the time of Jesus’s second coming.
[Tribulational tri.bu.la.tion.al adjective.]

Tribulation is an old-timey word which, to many people and Evangelicals in particular, has to do with the End Times. Hence writers find it useful: You wanna talk about suffering, but wanna make it sound like really awful suffering, as bad as suffering can be? You call it tribulation.

Thing is, when “tribulation” comes up in the King James Version, it means any and every kind of suffering. Not just the worst-case-ever kind of suffering. I mean it is used to describe that, Mt 24.21 but it’s used for all the other kinds. ’Cause suffering is part of the world we live in.

John 16.33 KJV
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

Life is suffering. But Jesus has conquered the world.

So when we read of tribulation in the scriptures, it’s interchangeable with suffering. Don’t go reading great suffering into it… unless the context shows you oughta. ’Cause sometimes you oughta.

But most of the time it’s just life. And Christians shouldn’t be so surprised and outraged when life happens to have suffering in it. Problem is, we do. In the United States, Christians live very comfortably. Hence many of us are under the delusion that once we came to Jesus, our sufferings were over. Totally over. Erased by Jesus.

So whenever suffering does happen to an American Christian—or really anybody who lives in a first-world country with religious freedom and a comfortable Christian majority—we don’t assume it’s part of the usual suffering found in our fallen world. We assume it’s an aberration. Something lowered Jesus’s hedge of protection and let suffering in. Probably for one of these reasons:

  • The devil’s trying to rip us a new one like it did Job, and for whatever reason God’s allowing it.
  • We sinned, or otherwise stepped outside of God’s perfect will. God himself is out to smite us.
  • We didn’t sin—but to preemptively keep us from sinning, or build character, God’s smiting us anyway. Like he did Paul. 2Co 12.7
  • Somebody cursed us. So we need some form of supernatural deliverance; something to get the evil spirits to bug off.
  • The End has come. Or at least it’s a sign of the End, a warning of the End, a glimpse of End-Times-style judgment, or something related to all that.

Generally we go for worst-case scenarios. We never consider the very real likelihood our suffering doesn’t mean anything. We insist it has to mean something; everything means something. We’re just that important. (Or narcissistic.)

Nope. Reality doesn’t work like that. Christianity doesn’t either. Jesus never guaranteed a trouble-free existence in this age. Read that John verse again: “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” There will be tribulation, and Christians aren’t exempt. In fact we should expect pushback when we follow Jesus properly. Not even our homes are safe.

Matthew 10.34-36 KJV
34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

Face it: The road to God’s kingdom has a fair amount of tribulation on it. Ac 14.22 Every antichrist is gonna want to pick a fight. Every hardship is gonna be waved around as if it’s proof God’s not around or doesn’t care. Even fellow Christians are gonna test our commitment to Jesus when times get rough—partly because they insist times should never get rough, and partly because they wanna blame somebody else for their suffering; and here’s where they start to pick on all the sinners in the world. Challenge them for their gracelessness, and watch ’em turn on you.

And I haven’t even yet got to the great tribulation.

The “great tribulation.”

According to Darbyists—plus all the pagans who borrow Darbyist ideas to write their pop-culture versions of the End—there’s gonna be a profoundly awful period of human suffering right at the very end of history. Right before Jesus returns to either put it to an end, or (according to dark Christians) add to it by destroying everyone they he doesn’t like.

The idea comes from this statement of Jesus’s:

Mark 13.19-20 KJV
19 For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. 20 And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.

The KJV calls it affliction, but Darbyists go with “great tribulation.” They describe it as the seven-year period between the secret rapture, when all the Christians get magically whisked to heaven before the really bad stuff happens, and Jesus’s second coming. During this time the Beast is expected to take over the earth and make it awful, particularly for Christians.

Wait, how’s the Beast gonna make life suck for Christians when we were all raptured?—because the scriptures do describe the Beast fighting and defeating saints. Rv 13.7 Well, Darbyists imagine two possibilities: Either the rapture happens in the middle of great tribulation, which means Christians only suffer in the first half; or they figure some pagans who were “left behind” in the rapture must’ve repented, became Christian, and now have to live through great tribulation.

Hence we have three tribulational scenarios, all named after where the rapture takes place in relation to great tribulation.

  1. PRETRIB The pretribulational belief is we get raptured before any great tribulation happens. (John Hagee preaches this idea.)
  2. MIDTRIB. The midtribulational belief is we go through some great tribulation, but Jesus raptures us before the really really bad stuff takes place. (Jim Bakker promotes this idea, and really wants to sell you stuff for your End Times bunker.)
  3. POSTTRIB. The posttribulational belief is we’re already going through tribulation. And Jesus raptures us at his second coming.

For visual learners, I got an infographic.


Three timelines for the very last days before Jesus’s return.

As I said in my article on the rapture, there is no secret rapture in the bible. The rapture is far from secret: It happens when Jesus returns, with a black sky and trumpet blast and in full view of everyone. So where do Darbyists get the idea there’s a secret rapture either before or in the middle of tribulation?

Largely it’s futurism, their belief every End Times event happens in the future. John Nelson Darby was a cessationist who believed God turned off the miracles. But all the End Times visions are full of miracles, so Darbyists figure they can’t possibly take place in the miracle-free present day. Nor in any of the days since the bible’s completion. Everything must therefore happen in our future. Beginning with a secret rapture, based on various verses they take out of context to support both Darbyism and their various wish-fulfillment ideas like not suffering.

True there are some Darbyists, like Tim LaHaye, who figured some miraculous events take place leading up to the secret rapture. That’s because LaHaye was continuationist: He didn’t believe God turned off his miracles. Yet he was still Darbyist. How? Simple: LaHaye grew up Darbyist, and never thought to question the whole screwy system. He assumed it was valid, because everybody he knew treated it as valid. Lots of continuationists share this same defective boat. That’s why they’re all wet.

The historical great tribulation.

Because great tribulation must occur in the future, Darbyists tend to downplay, if not be utterly clueless about, a period of great tribulation which entirely fulfilled Jesus’s prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem. It’s when the Romans destroyed it in the year 70, fulfilling this statement of Jesus’s:

Mark 13.30 KJV
Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.

This happened four decades after Jesus predicted Jerusalem and the temple’s destruction—within the lifetime of that generation of listeners. Mt 24.34, Lk 21.32 Flavius Josephus, who personally saw it, described it like so. (William Whiston’s translation.)

Now the number of those that were carried captive, during this whole war, was collected to be 97,000. As was the number of those that perished during the whole siege 1,100,000. The greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation [i.e. also Jews], but not belonging to the city itself. For they were come up from all the country to the Feast of Unleavened Bread; and were on a sudden shut up by an army; which at the very first occasioned so great a straitness among them, that there came a pestilential destruction upon them; and soon afterward such a famine, as destroyed them more suddenly.

And that this city could contain so many people in it, is manifest by that number of them, which was taken under Cestius. Who, being desirous of informing Nero of the power of the city, who otherwise was disposed to contemn that nation, intreated the high priests, if the thing were possible, to take the number of their whole multitude. So these high priests, upon the coming of that feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour till the 11th; but so that a company not less than 10, belong to every sacrifice: (for ’tis not lawful for them to feast singly by themselves). And many of us are 20 in a company. Now the number of sacrifices was 256,500; which, upon the allowance of no more than 10 that feast together, amounts to 2,700,200 persons that were pure and holy. For as to those that have the leprosy, or the gonorrhea; or women that have their monthly courses, or such as are otherwise polluted, it is not lawful for them to be partakers of this sacrifice. Nor indeed for any foreigners neither, who come hither to worship.

Now this vast multitude is indeed collected out of remote places. But the entire nation was now shut up by fate, as in prison; and the Roman army encompassed the city when it was crowded with inhabitants. Accordingly the multitude of those that therein perished exceeded all the destructions that either men or God ever brought upon the world. For, to speak only of what was publicly known, the Romans slew some of them; some they carried captives; and others they made a search for underground: and when they found where they were, they broke up the ground, and slew all they met with.

There were also found slain there above 2,000 persons; partly by their own hands, and partly by one another, but chiefly destroyed by the famine. But then, the ill savor of the dead bodies was most offensive to those that light upon them. Insomuch that some were obliged to get away immediately; while others were so greedy of gain, that they would go in among the dead bodies that lay on heaps, and tread upon them. For a great deal of treasure was found in these caverns; and the hope of gain made every way of getting it to be esteemed lawful.

Many also of those that had been put in prison by the tyrants were now brought out. For they did not leave off their barbarous cruelty at the very last. Yet did God avenge himself upon them both, in a manner agreeable to justice. […] And now the Romans set fire to the extreme parts of the city, and burnt them down, and entirely demolished its walls. Jewish War 6.9.3-4

Josephus’s line, “The multitude of those that therein perished exceeded all the destructions that either men or God ever brought upon the world” sounds pretty much like Jesus’s, “For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.” Yeah, humanity’s done worse since. The Holocaust of World War 2 immediately comes to mind. But for ancient times, when there were maybe 200 million people on earth, the destruction of a million-plus Jews is a profoundly significant disaster.

But to Darbyists, it’s not a castrophe; it’s an inconvenience. Some of the bible passages they claim are End Times prophecies, require a temple! But the Romans flattened it. Stupid Romans. Now somebody’s gotta rebuild the temple, otherwise their timeline won}t work: Great tribulation can’t effectively start, and Jesus can’t return.

How a new temple will get built without triggering World War 3 is questionable. Some Darbyists actually try to squeeze such a war into their End Times prognostications. Tim LaHaye’s novels simply stated a temple had been built already, and never say how.

Like I said, to them it’s an inconvenience. They don’t care about the death and suffering of millions of Jews when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. They dismiss all of that as any potential fulfillment of Jesus’s warnings.

Seven years of tribulation.

The prophet Daniel had apocalyptic visions of the End. The LORD sent him the angel Gabriel to explain ’em… somewhat. Gabriel laid out a loose timeline for Daniel: Counting from Jerusalem’s reconstruction, Gabriel said there are only “70 sevens” till the end of time. Da 9.24 Most translations render this “70 weeks.”

  • Seven sevens after Jerusalem is rebuilt, Messiah appears. Da 9.25
  • Then 62 sevens of trouble. At the end of this, Messiah gets cut off, and an invading prince comes to make war. Da 9.26
  • Then the last seven of history: The prince runs roughshod over Jerusalem till someone puts a stop to him. Da 9.27

In Revelation, Jesus gave John similar visions. Because both Jesus and John had read Daniel, more than likely Jesus referred to the visions of Daniel from time to time. But Darbyists believe these aren’t merely references nor visions: This part, they choose to take literally. Even though we should know better than to take apocalypses literally. The final seven of history, Darbyists insist, means a literal seven years. Seven years of tribulation.

What evidence do they have for predicting it’s literally seven years? None.

’Cause let’s apply their literalness to Gabriel’s sevens. Yep, that means we gotta do math. (Yikes.) Jerusalem was rebuilt in 515BC and Jesus’s life on earth, birth to rapture, was 7BC to 33CE. So from Jerusalem’s reconstruction to Jesus’s life, we get between 521 and 547 years. Each unit of Gabriel’s “seven sevens” can literally represent between 10.62 and 11.16 years. For convenience we’ll round it to 11.

Do I sound ridiculously literal? Absolutely I do. But Darbyists are worse.

Now that we’ve solved for x, let’s see about the next 62 sevens of history: If each unit is a literal 11 years, each seven is 77 years long, and 62 sevens is 4,774 years long. The last seven of history?—the “seven” of the great tribulation? It should literally be 77 years long. And if Jesus isn’t returning till the end of it, expect him round the year 4850. What, you thought he was returning sooner?

I’ve already gone way farther than Darbyists will. Because any interpretation of the End which pushes the End that far into the future, they consider unacceptable. They’re quite fond of saying the rapture can happen any second. They may fight one another over all the stuff which “has to happen first,” but generally they agree the End can begin any time. So every once in a while one of ’em does the math, realizes the math really doesn’t get ’em where they want to go… and dismisses the math. But they’ll definitely stick to seven literal years of tribulation.

Since literalness is the wrong way to interpret Daniel, what’s the correct way? Simple: Gabriel wasn’t presenting a timeline. Just a sequence. First Jerusalem gets rebuilt. Messiah comes. Much, much later the End comes—in chaos. How much chaos? Dunno; but every time “the day of the LORD” is described in the Old Testament there’s chaos. Mainly ’cause plenty of people don’t want the day of the LORD to happen, and are gonna object loudly. It’ll come just the same.

A “seven” doesn’t represent a time period, but an idea. Namely the time it took God to create heavens and earth, then rest. Throughout the bible, seven represents the time it takes to get something well and truly and perfectly done. Stuff gets finished within a seven, same as God finishing creation in a week.

So the seven sevens till Messiah: The Hebrew language repeats itself for emphasis, and seven sevens means something’s totally finished. It represents the fullness of time when God sent his Son. Ga 4.4 Not the literal five centuries before Jesus, and no, you don’t divide these years by 49 to figure out how long a “cosmic day” is. (And then ditch these cosmic days when it comes to how long the final seven lasts.)

Seven years of tribulation is entirely based on convenience. Darbyists don’t wanna suffer for 77 years. (Who would?) They want it to be relatively, reasonably short. Enough time to cram their prophecies into—since they won’t accept the idea they were fulfilled over the past 20 centuries of Christian history. Seven literal years works for them.

The Beast gets to run amok for the final 3½ years of it, ’cause Revelation says it was given power to do its thing for “42 months” before Jesus overthrows it. Rv 15.5 Nope, these 42 months aren’t “cosmic months” where every month represents a literal year (even though it’d fit the 77-year tribulation scheme mighty well). Gabriel notwithstanding, Darbyists insist these are literal months.

Well. You see the vast inconsistency throughout Darbyist interpretation schemes. I hope it convinces you to ignore all their other prognostications. They’re not at all reliable.

Will there be End Times chaos? Sure. Will it be a period of unimaginable suffering, worse than it’s ever been? No; that happened already. All the suffering in Revelation can be linked to historical events. We’ve had plagues which killed more people than we see in the apocalypses. Persecutions which decimated Christians. Beasts aplenty.

What happens when we demand tribulation last seven literal years? Date-setting.

In the final Left Behind novel, Glorious Appearing, every Christian in the book knows precisely when Jesus is gonna return. Not the precise time, but the day itself. ’Cause they’re Darbyists, and they know Jesus will return seven years to the day after the secret rapture. And in the book, he does!

In real life, Jesus said nobody, not even he, knows the specific day. Mk 13.32 He’s not obligated to any of our timelines. For they aren’t his timelines. He doesn’t set one, and it’s not for us to make one. Ac 1.7 Instead, trust that God has that in hand, and go preach the good news: Jesus is coming back. But to save the world—not scorch it with tribulation first.

Warnings when persecution comes. (Unless you’re American.)

by K.W. Leslie, 24 May

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

In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus told his students about what’d happen before as predicted, the Romans destroyed the temple in the great tribulation. Many fearful Christians insist Jesus wasn’t speaking of the next 40 years, but our future; the events of the End Times. That’s largely because they don’t know first-century history, nor their bibles, and only believe other fearful Christians. If you aren’t as paranoid, peaceless, and agitated as they, they feel you’re too stupid to listen to. The End Times has gotta be all about fear, not hope—and they explain away the fruitlessness of fear by claiming it’s really “the fear of God” they’re about. Yeah right.

Today’s passage tends to trigger ’em more than most, because here Jesus speaks about the active persecution of Christians. Which, at that time, was coming soon. Really soon; possibly before the year was out.

Jesus gave this discourse during Holy Week, and he’d be killed at the end of that week. In late May, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would pour himself out on the first Christians and start the church. And in the very next two chapters of Acts, Simon Peter and John cure a disabled guy, preach about it in temple, and get arrested—because they claim they cured him through the power of the resurrected Jesus, and the Sadducee head priests don’t even believe in resurrection. How much time took place between Pentecost and this first persecution? Annas and Caiaphas were still running the temple, Ac 4.6 so it was certainly before Jonathan ben Annas became head priest in the year 36.

So at the latest, persecution came three years after Jesus made this prophecy. And at the earliest?—right after Pentecost. Like as early as May 33. You think the apostles would’ve waited to cure the sick and proclaim Jesus’s name publicly? But with that kind of publicity comes pushback.

Jesus warned ’em persecution was coming way before this discourse, ’cause we see parallel lessons in other parts of the gospels.

Matthew 10.17-23 KWL
17 “Watch out for the people: They’ll turn you in to the Senate and their synagogues. They’ll flog you.
18 They’ll take you to leaders and kings because of me, to testify to them and the gentiles.
19 When they turn you in, don’t worry about what you might say at the time you give a defense:
20 It isn’t you speaking, but your Father’s Spirit in you speaking.
21 A brother will turn in a brother, and a father a son, to be sentenced to death.
Children will revolt against parents and execute them.
22 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name:
Those who endure to the end—they’ll be saved.
23 When people persecute you in this town, flee to the next!
Amen! I promise you, you won’t go through all the towns in Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

And after the Last Supper, he warned ’em about persecution a few more times.

John 15.20-21 KWL
20 “Remember the lesson I taught you?—‘The slave isn’t greater than his master.’
If they persecute me, they’ll persecute you. If you keep my words, you’ll keep watching out.
21 But all these people will persecute you because of my name
because they haven’t known the One who sent me.”
 
John 16.1-3 KWL
1 “I told you these things so you shouldn’t be outraged when they happen.
2 “They’ll make you excommunicants from their synagogues.
But the hour comes when everyone who kills you
might think it’s to offer service to God.
3 They’ll do these things because they don’t know the Father, nor me.”

If you legitimately follow Jesus, instead of following the state (or your party) and hypocritically pretending that’s following Jesus, you’re gonna get pushback. And notice in Jesus’s warnings: The pushback doesn’t come from government, like the fearful End Times interpretations claim. They come from neighbors. They come from family. Who might use the government to get their way, but the government doesn’t toss people out of synagogue; the congregation does. Jesus isn’t talking about anyone formally executing Christians in the same way he was killed (though it happens): He refers to the crowd murdering Christians. Lynching, stoning, stabbing, or other acts of vigilantism, because they think we’re heretic, and think heresy merits death… instead of simply shaking our dust off their feet. Mt 10.14

Anyway. Before the Romans came to destroy Jerusalem, Jesus warned his kids persecution would come to them before the Romans did.

They’re coming for the early church.

Mark keeps it simple. The authors of Matthew and Luke felt it wouldn’t hurt to include some of Jesus’s other warnings about persecution, ’cause they’d likely apply. Turns out they did.

Mark 13.9 KWL
9 “Watch yourselves. They’ll hand you over to senates and synagogues.
You’ll be scourged. You’ll be tried before leaders and kings because of your witness to me.”
 
Matthew 24.9-13 KWL
9 “Then they’ll turn you in to torture, and they’ll kill you:
You’ll be hated by every nation because of my name.
10 Then many will be outraged, turn one another in, and hate one another.
11 Many fake prophets will rise up, and will lead many astray.
12 The love of many will grow cold because of the spread of lawlessness.
13 Those who endure to the end—they’ll be saved.”
 
Luke 21.12-19 KWL
12 “Before everything in the End Times happens,
they will get their hands on you, will hunt you down,
handing you over to the synagogues and wardens,
dragging you off before kings and leaders because of my name.
13 They will want a testimony out of you.
14 So determine in your minds to not prepare a defense.
15 For I will give you a mouth and wisdom,
which your every opponent won’t be able to withstand or contradict.
16 You’ll be turned in by parents, siblings, relatives, and friends.
They’ll put some of you to death.
17 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
18 Maybe a hair of your head might not be destroyed.
19 But when you endure, you gain your souls.”

We see this stuff happen throughout Acts, the letters in the rest of the New Testament, and early Christian history. Phonies cropped up and mistaught Christians, which is why the apostles had to write what they did to set ’em straight. Libertines cropped up and told Christians they didn’t have to obey God’s commands any more ’cause grace, producing irreligious Christians whose behavior Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude also had to rebuke. And when the persecutions came, of course many Christians compromised: They loved peace and safety far more than they loved Jesus and integrity. (Heck, Christians nowadays will casually sell out Jesus for money and political power. Don’t even need persecution.)

The apostles preached Jesus in temple and got beaten for it. Preached him in synagogue, and Stephen got hauled before the Judean senate over it—then stoned to death. Paul wrote he’d been flogged five times, caned thrice, and stoned once, 2Co 11.24-25 and in prison or house arrest a bunch too. Jesus warned ’em everybody they thought they could trust would turn them in… same as one of his Twelve turned him in.

And Jesus also pointed out their trials were opportunities to share their testimonies. ’Cause legally they had to: The judge would wanna hear their side. And no, they didn’t have to invent an eloquent defense, and have it ready for the occasion, like so many Christian apologists struggle to memorize: Really they just had to share their God-experiences, and trust the Holy Spirit to poke the judges in their consciences. (And if not the judges, everybody else within earshot.) Trials aren’t crises; they’re opportunities.

Yes these instructions weren’t just for Jesus’s listeners at that time. They’re for Christians throughout history, whenever we face opposition, whenever we get persecuted. Whenever our Christianist neighbors come after us for not being as politically orthodox as they want; whenever atheism or some other religion becomes the state religion, and they choose to go antichrist and wipe out the churches; whenever Christian missionaries go into a nation which doesn’t trust new religious movements and gets pushback: We shouldn’t be surprised or outraged when persecution happens, and throw a tantrum like some pigheaded American tourist who can’t fathom why the soda machine won’t take his American quarters. Endure. Be patient. Gain your soul.

Ignoring this passage by pushing it into the future.

Jesus’s warnings presume we Christians are living in lands, or going into nations, where it’s not safe to be Christian. Where there’s a chance we’ll get hassled, persecuted, and killed over his name. Same as the apostles in the first century; same as all Christians till the Romans passed the Edict of Milan and legalized Christianity; same as Christian reformers who stood up to their hypocritical kings and governments and tried to really follow Jesus; and same as Christians today who leave our oases of religious freedom to evangelize other lands.

So how do his warnings affect Christians in the United States? Very little. ’Cause the States are a haven for Christians.

Most Americans consider ourselves Christian. When anyone dares interfere with our constitutional freedoms of speech, assembly, press, and religion, you better believe we scream bloody murder about it. That’s not supposed to happen here!

We aren’t taken before churches and governments and caned. We don’t stand before kings and leaders to defend our faith. We never get turned in to the cops by family members; the cops are Christian too! We aren’t hated by everyone because of Jesus.

If we ever are hated, it’s only because of our awful behavior. Many a Christian jerk will claim they’re being persecuted, but again it’s because they’re being unloving or evil. They violate local noise ordinances. Hog all the parking spaces. Take over public spaces for a church function and never bother to file permits. Proselytize people at work. Or, for the extremists among us, various cultish things. Otherwise Christians have approval and free reign in the United States—if not preferential treatment just ’cause we’re a supermajority.

This isn’t true of the rest of the planet. You can still be killed for being Christian in much of Asia and northern Africa. Same as Jesus was speaking of in these passages: He spoke of civic leaders, officials, and the government itself coming after his followers, to abuse them, cane them, or murder them.

How do Christians who live in safe first-world countries with religious freedom, ever experience the sort of conditions Jesus spoke about? Only when we leave. Only when we step beyond the hedge of protection of our homelands, and proclaim God’s kingdom elsewhere. Then we’re risking our lives to share Jesus. Not before.

But sad to say, most of us have no intention of ever doing any such thing. We love our lives, our comforts, and our freedoms too much. If we gotta die for Jesus, we’ll do it at home, standing up for our “rights” to bug our neighbors by playing our Christian music above 100 decibels. Certainly not in some godforsaken foreign land, where anybody who feels like it can just shoot you when you bug them.

Nope; we’ll send those lands our missionaries, money, old clothes, and bibles, and hope they find our websites on the internet. (Assuming the sites aren’t blocked by their governments.) But physically go into the whole world with the gospel? Don’t be daft. It’s dangerous out there.

So do Jesus’s warnings apply to us? Nope; we never let ’em.

But we can’t entirely ignore these passages. They gotta apply to us in some way… which never directly challenges us. That’s how dark Christians can easily coopt ’em for their End Times views: At some point in the future, our government’s gonna go antichrist, and then this’ll apply to us. Then they’ll round up active Christians, same as Soviets did and North Koreans do, and Jesus’s prophecies will finally come true.

Well… unless we stay vigilant, and make sure the government never, ever takes away our freedoms. And any time it looks like they might, maybe we can scream “Persecution!” and get ’em to back off.

Here’s the problem with this interpretation: No, persecution’s not happening to us first-worlder Christians. But it’s happening everywhere else. Their persecution isn’t an End Times thing; it’s a present-day thing. (Unless they’re living in the End Times and we’re not.)

Some Christians interpret it this way: Persecution is an End Times thing, so Christians don’t suffer it yet. But those people in third world countries? They’re being persecuted… because they’re not real Christians. They’re not good Evangelicals like you and me. They’re Orthodox, or Copts, or Syrian, or eastern-rite Roman Catholics, or some other denomination which we presume is heretic and works-righteousness-based. So let ISIL, the Hindus, Buddhists, and Commies kill ’em all. ’Cause true Christians aren’t getting persecuted yet.

Yeah, it’s bad theology, mixed with a fair amount of racism and nationalism. Bad theology makes it really easy to embrace all the sentiments of an antichrist, write off our persecuted sisters and brothers as if they’re irrelevant, and let them die. Bad theology kills, folks.

The fact is, Jesus isn’t talking about the End! He means the Twelve, and Christians throughout Christian history. He warned ’em wars and natural disasters and recessions and pandemics will happen. And as we look around, we see they totally do. He warned them Christians will be persecuted. And as we look outside our comfortable first-world bubble, we see they totally do too.

Now go help the persecuted church.

I have a bad feeling we American Christians are gonna be in a lot of trouble with Jesus once he returns. Because, same as in his story about sheep and goats, we don’t bother to do for the least of our sisters and brothers. We don’t bother to use our unrighteous mammon to extend the kingdom beyond our homeland. We seek the greater glory of our country and fellow citizens, not the greater glory of God.

American Christians can do a lot to alleviate persecution in other countries. Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”—and our government operates the most powerful military in the world, which we don’t have to use, but we can afford to speak softly to countries who want our friendship, or fear our wrath. Our allies in the government can speak for our sisters and brothers in the nations which oppress them. Maybe get ’em freed. Maybe convince these countries to change their policies about Christians. And hey, if those countries don’t want their Christians, we’ll take them! Grateful immigrants make the best Americans.

We can, through our connections with Christians in hostile countries, provide them with the resources their countrymen won’t. We can hook ’em up with food, clothing, medicine: We can empower them to bless their neighbors, to do good deeds for them, to make their neighbors think well of them, and see them as a benefit to their communities instead of a boil to lance.

So why don’t we?

“Discerning” the news: Seeking “signs of the times.”

by K.W. Leslie, 17 July

End Times prognosticator Hal Lindsey is fond of saying when we read the bible, particularly Revelation, we oughta do it with the scriptures in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Because the events of his End Times timeline are happening. Right this instant.

Even though every five years or so, he has to write another End Times book to update all the predictions of his previous End Times book. For some reason they keep not turning into the harbingers of the End he insists they are.

Y’see, what Lindsey does, and what many other End Times fixated Christians do, is what they call “discerning the news.” What they’re doing, they claim, is what Jesus tells us to: They’re looking at the signs of the day. Or as the KJV puts it, “the signs of the times.”

Matthew 16.1-4 KWL
1 Approaching Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a heavenly sign to show them.
2 In reply Jesus told them, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It’s red; clear sky.’
3 And in the morning, ‘Storms today, for the sky is red and gloomy.’
So you know to interpret the face of the sky—and can’t interpret the signs of the day?”

In context, Jesus said this phrase when Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus ’cause he wasn’t doing as they expected Messiah to do in their End Times timelines, so they asked him to perform one of those signs. Yeah, it’s ironic how these “signs of the times” seekers are doing the very same thing. Irony’s pretty common when people don’t know their bibles.

Jesus wasn’t telling these religious folks to study current events and so they could find fulfilled prophecy in them. He was pointing out how greatly they missed the obvious. They could interpret the weather, which is right there, above their heads; but when Jesus was likewise right in front of them, they wanted signs. Somehow they’d gone blind.

Likewise with End Times events. When they happen, they’re as obvious as a pimple on your nose. They don’t require you, or anyone, to go digging through news websites, looking for stories which sorta kinda resemble a comment in Isaiah or Psalms or Nahum. They don’t require any special powers of discernment, where you somehow are able to see the things no one else can. God wants them to be visible to everyone, Christian and pagan alike, with no question in our minds that these are God-events, so we’ll repent and turn to him and be saved. Not so Christians can be forewarned, and get our End Times bunkers ready, and buy guns.

These “prophecy scholars” who claim current events are pointing to how the future’s gonna turn out? In five years they’ll need to update their books and websites for the very same reason Lindsey does: Prophets they ain’t.

And yet. Because of these nuts, I know too many Christians who think “discerning the news” is an entirely legitimate practice. They scour the news for bible-like articles, then try to connect the dots between the article and the “prophecies.” Any match, no matter how iffy, no matter how far it stretches credibility, will do for them. They point to the article, point to the proof text, and declare, “This is fulfillment!” and share it with anyone who’ll listen. They call this discernment, but to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride out of context,


Giphy

If you want a scripture it fulfills, okay: Here ya go.

Mark 13.5-8 KWL
5 Jesus began to tell them, “Watch out, lest someone trick you.
6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m him!’ They’ll trick many.
7 Don’t freak out when you overhear conflicts, and hearsay about conflicts.
These things happen, but it’s not the End yet.
8 People will rise against people; kingdoms against kingdoms.
Earthquakes will happen in other lands. Recessions will happen.
They’re early labor pains.”

Purgatory: When our works are tested with fire.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 November

Some Christians believe there’s no such thing. Here’s why the others believe it exists—in whatever form they imagine it.

Many Christians figure they’re C.S. Lewis fans ’cause they read his Narnia books, as I did in fifth grade. In high school I read his Mere Christianity, and in college I took advantage of its much-larger Lewis collection to read everything I could find. Including, it turned out, his academic stuff… which leads to another story I’ll tell another time.

One of his books was The Great Divorce, Lewis’s attempt to tell a Divine Comedy-style tour of purgatory, with George MacDonald as his guide instead of Virgil. It’s interesting because it gives examples of the sort of people who aren’t ready for heaven. But the book is a big hurdle for various Christians—in particular Fundamentalists—because they don’t believe in purgatory. Depending on how gracious they are (or aren’t), they’d assign Lewis’s case studies to either heaven or hell, and that’s that.

I’ve since found a number of self-described “Lewis fans” have never read The Great Divorce, and those who have, don’t entirely know what to do with it. Lewis was an Anglican, and since the Church of England believes in purgatory, so did he. My acquaintances were largely Assemblies, Baptists, or unaffiliated Fundies, and really didn’t like how their favorite author believed in something they consider “too Catholic” for their tastes. I get that, ’cause I used to be in the same boat: I dismissed purgatory as a ridiculous, non-biblical Catholic invention, invented as a loophole for good pagans who didn’t embrace Jesus, but might if they had one more chance in the afterlife.

Except that’s not what Catholics teach about purgatory. It’s what they teach about limbo. By which I don’t mean the game where you lean backwards under a bar without touching it; I mean the belief there’s a place in the afterlife which isn’t paradise, but isn’t torment either (well, unless the fact you’re never going to heaven is torment), where good pagans and unbaptized Christians go. (Although nowadays most of ’em teach unbaptized Christians go to purgatory.)

What is purgatory then? Purgatory is where you go before you go to paradise or heaven. Because when we die, we still have some sins on our souls, and these sins need to be removed before we can go onward and upward. Purgatory’s where we get those sins removed. That done, we’re clean, and can now enter God’s presence unhindered.

Is purgatory in the bible? Well, kinda. But the very little which suggests the existence of purgatory, has been pulled and stretched like taffy. Those who don’t believe in purgatory rightly point out far too much has been extrapolated from far too little. You know, like the Left Behind novels.

Doggy heaven.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 September

We don’t know the details of God’s relationships with his other creatures. Probably shouldn’t speculate.

Years ago, in my junior high school bible class, one of the students asked about doggy heaven. And just for evil fun, I horrified her by quoting Revelation 22.15, which describes New Jerusalem in the new heaven and earth:

Revelation 22.15 NIV
Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

So, I joked, all dogs apparently don’t go to heaven. Looks like they go to hell.

No, that’s not the proper context of the verse. The text does literally have oi kýnes/“the dogs.” But you have to remember what dogs were to ancient Judeans. Some of them did have pet dogs, a practice they picked up from the nations round them. But generally dogs in Israel were scavenger animals: They ate garbage, roadkill, and picked off rats and other vermin. They were ritually unclean, not to mention physically unclean. The Judeans tried to keep ’em outside the gates of old Jerusalem, lest they get inside and wreck things and stink up the place. Stands to reason they wouldn’t want any dogs in New Jerusalem either. Dogs were pests.

Various preachers also like to point out certain Pharisees referred to pagan male temple prostitutes as “dogs.” And yeah, maybe that was the idea John had in mind. But more likely it was the idea New Jerusalem wouldn’t have anything chaotic or destructive in it, like roaming packs of wild dogs.

But we really have no idea about domestic dogs in the new heaven.

See, we lack a whole lot of details about what will or won’t be in New Jerusalem. We have the book of Revelation, but Revelation doesn’t say. And Revelation, I remind you, is an apocalypse: The bulk of John’s visions, if not all of John’s visions, aren’t of literal things:

  • Jesus doesn’t literally have a sword sticking out of his mouth. Rv 1.16, 19.15
  • Jesus isn’t literally a seven-horned seven-eyed lamb who looks like he’s been killed. Rv 5.6
  • Satan isn’t literally a big red dragon with seven heads and ten horns. Rv 12.3 Not that Christians haven’t imagined it does look like that.

John was shown what the End was like. Not what the End literally consists of. Jesus didn’t want him—nor us—to have these details. This being the case, we can’t say with full certainty the descriptions of the new heaven/earth in Revelation are what it’ll literally consist of. All we can do is speculate, based on the tiny bits of evidence we have about what some of these visions mean. All we know for certain is Jesus will be there… so whatever it consists of, it’ll be good.

So, housepets in heaven: Don’t know.

I certainly don’t think pets are a bad thing. I gotta wonder about certain pet owners, of course. Some of ’em obsess over their pets to a disturbingly unhealthy degree. I gotta wonder about women who call themselves a “dog mom”: Love your dog all you want, but it’s not your baby, and your experience is not the same as raising human children. But I digress: I don’t see anything wrong with sane pet owners. Nor anything wrong with having pets in heaven.

Here’s the catch: I don’t see anything wrong with marriage either. But Jesus said marriage won’t be valid in heaven. Mt 22.30 (I know; Mormons are in serious denial about that one.) He didn’t go into detail, although many a Christian has speculated it’s because we won’t procreate anymore. I bring this up to point out a relationship we consider totally normal, moral, and (for many) enjoyable—but it’s getting done away with in heaven. So what other radical transformations might we be in for?

Maybe owning pets will be abolished the same as owning humans is getting abolished. All pets go free, and whether they stay with humans is finally voluntary on their part. To me, that sounds way more just and fair than our current situation. But I’m speculating. I don’t know how it’ll work in heaven. Jesus does, but he didn’t tell us.

Near-death experiences, and the afterlife.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 May

Funny how everybody sees the afterlife they expect.

In yesterday’s article, “How long does hell last?” I brought up the subject of near-death experiences, those cases where people died and came back, and have a tale to tell about what they saw in the afterlife.

And they have all sorts of tales. Like of an out-of-body experience, where their ghost watched the doctors or EMTs trying to bring ’em back to life. Like a spirit-realm experience, where they met angels, dead loved ones, Jesus, or the Father. Like an afterlife experience, where they travel through a tunnel of light and get to poke around heaven for a bit. In some cases it’s the bad afterlife, and they’re in hell.

These stories are really popular, and people share them and cling to them for hope. Books about them sell. Movies too. Since we have big questions about the afterlife, we figure near-death experiences help answer these questions.

This is also true for Christians. The scriptures don’t tell us a whole lot about the afterlife, because God’s kingdom is about new life, not afterlife. Resurrection, not living in a realm of the dead. So since the afterlife ultimately doesn’t matter—we’re getting rescued from it!—all we know about it are hints, clues, and no real details. But we want details: If Jesus doesn’t return before we die, we’re gonna experience the afterlife, and wanna know what we’re in for. So we tend to fill in those gaps in our knowledge with educated guesses, mythology… and of course the near-death experiences of those who’ve “been there.”

Yeah, putting it in quotes kinda tips off the fact I doubt they’ve really been there. Here’s why.

How long does hell last?

by K.W. Leslie, 24 May

Some say forever, some say temporarily, and some say no time at all.

As I explained in my article “The four hells,” there are four words translated hell in the scriptures, and the one I mean by “hell” is ge-Henna, the trash fire outside Jerusalem, reimagined in Revelation as a pool of fire and sulfur outside New Jerusalem. Rv 20.10-15 Into it go Satan and its angels, the Beast, the fake prophet who promotes the Beast, the personifications of Death and Hades (i.e. the afterlife), and everyone whose name isn’t listed in the life scroll—everyone who refused to turn to God for salvation, and therefore don’t get to enter his kingdom.

The Beast and prophet are explicitly described as being “tortured there, day and night, age to ages.” Rv 20.10 Though this lake is known as the second death, Rv 20.14 it doesn’t have a sense of finality like death seems to. Death feels like an absolute stopping point—when you’re dead, you’re not alive, you’re not moving, you’re not breathing, you’re not thinking, you’re not anything; you’re dead. Whereas the second death sounds more like the beings sent into it aren’t inert, but moving, conscious… and suffering from eternal torment. Because they’re in fire. Everlasting fire, as the King James Version put it. Mt 25.41 KJV Where quite unlike the trash fires of the literal ge-Henna, the worms don’t die, and the fire never goes out. Is 66.24, Mk 9.48

Now, I know certain dark Christians who love this idea of eternal conscious torment. Partly because there are certain people they’d love to see tortured forever. Satan obviously. But most of the time they’re thinking of certain political opponents. Certain unrepentant adversaries we’ve defeated in war. Certain obnoxious people they know. Yeah, I know: We all have people we don’t like, but… longing to see them burn forever? What is wrong with these people? Since God doesn’t wanna see anyone perish, 2Pe 3.9 and these people do, this sort of fleshly, fruitless gracelessness suggests these people don’t have any real relationship with God, much as they claim to. I don’t care what they call themselves.

The other reason they love the idea of eternal torment—a reason which is just a bit more legit than t’other—is because they figure it’s a powerful motivator for getting people into God’s kingdom. If anyone’s on the fence about this idea of living under Jesus’s reign in peace and harmony (mainly ’cause the church is full of a--holes like me), Christians can point out the alternative: Outside the kingdom, it’s hot, stinky hell. You don’t wanna go to hell! We don’t want you there either; God doesn’t want you there either; why go there when you don’t have to? Don’t worry about the jerks in the church; Jesus’ll deal with them. Focus on Jesus. Turn to him. Let him save you.

The rest of us really don’t love the idea of eternal torment. Problem is, we don’t really see any way around it. That’s what Jesus describes in the scriptures. So that’s the reality we’re obligated to deal with: When people reject Jesus, that’s the destination they’ve effectively chosen. If people prefer a cosmetic relationship with Christianity over a living relationship with Jesus, that’s where they’re going.

It’s not like we can make up a reality we like better. Although that’s never stopped people from trying, has it?

What’s America’s role in the End Times?

by K.W. Leslie, 16 May

Same as the rest of the world.

The bible, in entirety, was written before the middle east, Europe, Asia, and Africa knew the western hemisphere existed.

True, God knew it was there. But his apostles and prophets had no idea. And God didn’t see any point in informing them. It’s not like the Americas, nor any other yet-to-be-discovered islands in the world, were excluded from the scriptures’ blanket statements about humanity. The LORD is God, and Jesus is King, of the whole earth. Known and unknown lands alike.

So North and South America—the Indian nations then, and the current nations now—aren’t in the bible. At all. Neither suggested nor alluded to in it.

So even if you’re citizen of the United States, loyal and patriotic, or even just a big fan of all things American like so many of our resident aliens, I gotta break it to you: Other than the bits about “all the world,” we don’t figure into End Times predictions whatsoever.

But you’d be surprised how many American prognosticators simply can’t have that.

Blame American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States is special, the greatest country in the world, the greatest country in history, and the related belief that Americans are smarter, more capable, more innovative, more talented, than the folks of any other nation. No offense guys; we just grew up under more freedom. If you had American-style freedom, maybe you’d do as well. But probably not. We’ve been freer longer, and we’re pretty sure that has something to do with it too.

We’ve been taught exceptionalism all our lives. It’s a huge part of American-style civic idolatry. So yeah, this is a lot of the reason why we Americans behave as if we’re special. We’ve always been told we are, and we believe it.

This attitude has trickled into our religion. Our End Times prognosticators figure the United States is special, doggone it, so we oughta fit in the End Times timeline somewhere. They’re not entirely sure where, but they shoehorn us pretty much anywhere they can get away with it.

Set your hearts for Jesus’s return.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 December

Different scholars have different ways they wanna interpret the Greek word παρουσία/parusía, “[second] coming.” Most of the time “appearance” or “coming” or “return.” When used to describe what Jesus is up to, it has more of a sense of “arrival,” or even “invasion.” Certain gutless commentators leave it untranslated, and just refer to Jesus’s parousia, as if it’s too difficult a concept to convert into English. Rubbish: The popular idea of “second coming” works just fine to describe it, 1Th 3.13 so that’s how I translate it.

Today I wanna point to Jesus’s brother James, and how he referred to it:

James 5.7-8 KWL
7 So be patient, fellow Christians, till the Master’s second coming.
Look, the farmer awaits the land’s precious fruit,
patient about it till they can get early- and late-season rain.
8 Be patient yourselves as well. Strengthen your minds:
The Master’s second coming has come near.

So. Ever since Jesus’s rapture, Christians have expected him to return at any time. True, he’s taking a mighty long time, but as I regularly point out, he’s trying to save everyone he can, and may put it off a great deal longer. Regardless, he’s one day coming for you individually. And me. And everyone else on the planet. Everybody dies, and we don’t always know when. So be ready.

James used the analogy of a farmer who looked forward to his crops. And yeah, at the time James wrote this, a few things had to happen before Jesus returned. In the analogy, the farmer had to wait through early- and late-season rains. Most Christians accept the idea the “early-season rain” has already happened in some form. Not all of us are agreed the “late-season rain” has happened yet. I figure they have; others insist it’s part of a future End Times timeline.

But either way, Jesus is taking his time about returning. And either way, we need to be patient. Which is a serious struggle for those Christians who want him to return today, and wrest our governments away from the fools and opportunists who currently have the reins. Much easier to have Jesus fix everything, than clean up our own messes. (And some of us are hoping Jesus does so with a whole lot of bloodshed; and yes, that’s seriously f---ed up of them. They need to get saved.) The End takes place on Jesus’s timetable, and not our timelines. If we gotta wait, we gotta wait. Still, let’s be ready.

Apostasy before the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 December

Before Jesus returns, bad stuff was predicted to happen. Both by Jesus, who described some of the events 40 years hence when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem; and here by Paul, Silas, and Timothy when they reminded the people of Thessaloniki that there’d first be a time of apostasy.

2 Thessalonians 2.1-12 KWL
1 We should ask you, fellow Christians, about the second coming of our Master, Christ Jesus,
and how we’ll be gathered together with him.
2 It’s so your minds won’t be shaken up, nor go into a panic,
whenever some spirit, message, or letter (like those from us) claims the Lord’s Day has come.
3 Don’t let anyone trick you in any way: Nothing happens till the apostasy comes first,
till the lawbreaking person, the child of destruction, is revealed—
4 the antagonist, the one exalting himself over everything called “god” and “worshipful,”
so much so he sits in God’s temple and claims he’s a god himself.
5 Don’t you remember the things I told you when I was still with you?
6 Now, you know who holds him back so he can be revealed in his own time:
7 The secret of the lawbreaker is already working—
but only till the one holding him back can come out of the way.
8 Then the lawbreaker will be revealed—whom Master Jesus will take out with his mouth’s breath.
He’ll abolish the lawbreaker at the manifestation of his second coming:
9 This is the coming against Satan’s works in every power, “miracle,” and fake wonder;
10 in every unrighteous trick towards those destroying themselves.
For fake miracles don’t accept the love of truth in their salvation.
11 Through it, God sends them off with their belief in fakes, in powerful error.
12 Thus everyone can be judged who didn’t trust truth, but were pleased with wrongness.

Popular Christian culture tends to call this “lawbreaking person” the Antichrist (with a capital A, as opposed to any old antichrist who just doesn’t like Christ or Christianity), and figure he’s the same as the beast of Revelation 13. There are also a bunch of wacky myths about how evil he’ll be and what he’ll do, but I won’t go into them today. Suffice to say he’s basically Bizarro Jesus: Like Bizarro Superman, who’s like Superman on Opposite Day, Antichrist supposedly does everything Christ does, but for evil and twisted reasons.

But Christians are actually disagreed as to whether such an Antichrist still needs to show up first. After all, it’s been 20 centuries since the apostles wrote to the Thessalonians, and many antichrists, many lawbreakers, have come and gone… and fulfilled this prediction many, many times already. And if this is the case, nothing more needs to happen before Jesus returns.

Still, some Christians really have their hearts set on this Bizarro Jesus version of the beast, and are anxiously awaiting him far more than they’re hopefully awaiting Jesus.

No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever!

by K.W. Leslie, 15 December

2 Peter 3.1-9.

I’ve been writing about the scriptures on Jesus’s second advent, or second coming. And of course I had to point out we don’t know when that’ll be. The events which were meant to come before his return, happened. There’s nothing left to hinder it—so it can happen at any time.

This being the case, people want that day to be today. Right now. ’Cause they’re suffering, or ’cause current events are awful, or ’cause they’re in a hurry to live under Jesus’s direct rule. Either way, come Lord Jesus! But he hasn’t yet.

And sometimes people give up hope of him ever returning. Which was the mindset Simon Peter had to deal with in his second letter.

2 Peter 3.1-4 KWL
1 Now this, beloved: I wrote you a second letter in which I awaken you to a purely-thought reminder—
2 to remember the words the holy prophets and your apostles foretold,
commands of our Master and Savior.
3 Know this first: In the last days, mockers will come to mock,
following however their own desires are going, 4 saying,
“How’s the promise of his second coming meant to work?—since the church fathers died over it,
same as everyone continues to die from the beginning of creation.”

See, the expectation of the first Christians was—same as now—that Jesus could return at any time. During their lifetimes, they expected. They hoped. They waited. If anyone’d told them Jesus still wouldn’t return for more than 20 centuries, I doubt they’d believe it. (Of course, if you spoke to them now, from their vantage point in paradise I’m pretty sure they have a better idea of what Jesus is up to.)

But you know how impatient humans can get. Even in the first century, they were taking crap from those naysayers who were wondering just how much time Jesus needed to put together his heavenly invasion. After all, the first generation of Christians were dying off. And didn’t Jesus say they’d live to see his return? Mk 13.30, Mt 24.34, Lk 21.32 (Not really. But you know how people will take any hint and just go nuts with it. Jn 21.22-23)

So part of the reason Simon wrote 2 Peter was to remind his readers of their original conviction. 2Pe 3.1 Either you trust what the prophets and apostles taught you, or you don’t. And they did warn us about naysayers, who follow their own urges instead of God’s messengers, 2Pe 3.3 who spin the second coming till it suits them better. Sometimes by imagining Jesus never will come; that instead we all die and go to him. Sometimes by creating intricate seven-year tribulational scenarios. However they work.

When is Jesus returning?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December

Jesus is returning. But when?

That’s the question every Christian asks, whether it’s in the front of the back of our minds. When’s Jesus coming back? Sooner rather than later, we hope—though considering the past 20 centuries, he’s taking an awfully long time to get round to it.

What did Jesus himself have to say about it? Well, this. You’re not gonna like it.

Mark 13.32-37 KWL
32 Nobody’s known about that day or the hour.
Neither the heavenly angels, nor the Son. Just the Father.
33 Look. Stay awake. You don’t know when it’s time.
34 It’s like a person abroad, who left his home.
He empowered his employees to do their jobs—and he ordered the doorman so he’d stay awake.
35 So stay awake! You don’t know when the master of the house returns.
Evening? Midnight? Sunrise? Morning? 36 When he suddenly arrives, don’t let him find you asleep.
37 What I tell you, I tell everyone: Stay awake!”

In short: “I dunno. And even if I knew, I’m not telling. You just need to be continually ready for it. On your toes. No slacking. Alert. Stay awake!”

Well, some of us can handle that command. Others really can’t. It’s why they’re running round like Chicken Little: “The sky’s falling! The End is near!” Everything they see in the news—contrary to Jesus’s instructions that these sorts of things will happen, but it doesn’t make it the End yet Mk 13.7-8 —is nonetheless treated as if it fulfills End Times prophecy. “Prophecy scholars” have us all wound up fearing all sorts of boogeymen which, no fooling, aren’t even in the bible. Aren’t even hinted about in the bible—they have way more to do with the prophecy scholars’ loopy politics than scripture. It’s all dark Christianity and irrational panic. Stuff that’s far more devilish than godly.

On the other extreme, there are the Christians who are pretty sure Jesus is never coming back. ’Cause it’s been 1,984 years since he ascended to heaven, and assuming a conservative 30 years per generation, that’s 66 generations ago. (And don’t go reading anything into that number, wouldya? Yeesh.) Since Jesus doesn’t appear to be in any rush to return, patiently waiting for as many to be saved as possible, 2Pe 3.9 he might take another 66 generations to finish the job. If ever.

Yeah, I don’t think it’s wise to adopt either extreme. Jesus fully intends to come back. If he’s not returning for the world for another generation or two, bear in mind he’s totally coming for you personally. You’re gonna die someday. So will I. So will everyone. We don’t know when that will be. “Stay awake” is as good advice for our personal day of reckoning, as it is for the world’s.

The Son of Man’s returning. And everyone will see it.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December

When Jesus returns, it’s not gonna be a secret second coming. It’s not gonna be an event which only takes place metaphorically, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim; where they believe God’s kingdom began in 1914 but Jesus isn’t coming to earth till the final battle.

It’s not gonna be a secret gnostic event, which only the chosen few know about. It’s not gonna be a secret rapture, where the Christians vanish and go to be with Jesus, and the rest of the planet has to wait seven years. It’s not secret. It’s nice and visible and obvious. As Jesus himself describes.

Matthew 24.23-28 KWL
23 “Then when anyone might tell you, ‘Look! Here’s Messiah!’ or ‘He’s here!’ don’t believe it:
24 Fake messiahs and fake prophets will arise, and will give great signs and wonders to deceive you.
If possible, to deceive God’s chosen people too.
25 Look, I’m forewarning you 26 so when people tell you, ‘Look, he’s in the wilderness!’ you don’t go out;
‘Look, he’s in the inner room!’ you don’t believe it.
27 For just as lightning comes from the east and appears in the west,
so will be the Son of Man’s second coming.
28 Wherever a corpse may be, there one will find eagles.”

That last line tends to confuse people—“Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather” is how the NIV puts it. Certain dark Christians like to claim it implies judgment—that when Jesus returns, he’ll kill all the sinners, and carrion birds will feast on their flesh. Rv 19.8 ’Cause they take Revelation literally, but that’s not how to appropriately interpret it.

It’s not a judgment. It’s an epigram. “Where there’s a corpse, there’s eagles” is like saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” or “If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” If it obviously looks like Jesus has returned, that’s what happened. But if there’s anything iffy, or secretive, or “spiritual” about it—if it looks like nothing, but only “the chosen few” know about it—it’s a con. It is nothing.

When you read the Left Behind novels, or watch any of the movies where all the world’s Christians mysteriously vanish, you notice there are always pagans who argue, “We don’t know what that was,” and deny the disappearances had anything to do with Jesus. After all, Jesus didn’t appear! And if all the Christians in a given town vanish overnight, shouldn’t you suspect foul play? Doesn’t this secret-rapture idea make it disturbingly easy for anti-Christians to wipe us out and blame it on Jesus?

Thing is, it’s not at all how the scriptures describe the actual second coming of the Son of Man. Not Jesus, nor his apostles. It’ll be so obvious, everyone will see it, and know precisely what’s happening. Whether they believe their own eyes or not.