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

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.

When Jesus catches us by surprise.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 May

1 Thessalonians 5.1-5.

Since Paul, Silas, and Timothy just finished writing about the rapture at Jesus’s second coming in the previous paragraph, Christians read today’s paragraph (or paragraphs; the Tyndale House Greek New Testament is pretty sure this is two) as if they’re still talking about it. And they kinda are. Because the apostles didn’t know when Jesus is returning—none of us do!—and for all they knew, the next big disaster might end with the second coming. Which might still be true. You don’t know. Neither do I. All we know is Jesus can return at any time.

Which the Thessalonians shoulda learned fairly quickly after they first followed Jesus. The apostles even write they’ve known it perfectly well. 1Th 5.2 When he returns, it won’t be predictable—no matter how often “prophecy scholars” try to predict it. It won’t be at a time we expect—no matter how often “prophecy scholars” say we should definitely expect it. It comes like a thief at night, and as Jesus said, if you know when a thief is coming, you wait up and catch him. Mt 24.43 You won’t catch Jesus. He catches us.

But, like a thief in the daytime, when he catches us by surprise, we can rally quickly.

1 Thessalonians 5.1-5 KWL
1 About times and moments, fellow Christians,
you’ve no need for us to write you:
2 You’ve known perfectly well the Lord’s Day comes like a thief at night—
3 when people might say, “Safe and secure,” and suddenly ruin comes upon them,
like contractions upon someone with a baby in the womb,
and they might not flee in time.
4 You, fellow Christians, aren’t in the dark,
so the day to you is like when a thief reaches in:
5 All of you are “children of light” and “children of daytime.”
Don’t be night, nor dark.

Now yes, we Christians have been waiting for the past 20 centuries for Jesus to return, ever since the angels first told his gawking students he was returning. Ac 1.10-11 He’s got his reasons for taking so long, but the students back then expected he’d return in their lifetimes. (And he did—but for them individually, when they died.) Christians have been waiting for him ever since.

Despite Jesus saying even he doesn’t know when he’ll return, Mk 13.32 and that the timing is none of our business anyway, Ac 1.7 many a Christian has definitely become fixated on when it’ll be. Some prophecy scholars, whom we call date-setters, have even picked specific dates and times: Jesus will return next Monday, or in two months, or on the eve of the next election, or whenever. They’re so fixated on their obsession, they’ve abandoned bible, as well as sense.

Even so, it’s not wrong to wonder when Jesus is coming back. The Thessalonians were. They were under persecution, and wanted to see some light at the end of the tunnel. So… could he come back this week? The next? Next month? Next year?

For that matter, how prepared ought we be for his return? Should I sell my house? Quit my job? Cash in my 401(k) and give it to the needy? Ditch any future travel plans? Move to the desert, wear nothing but white robes, and wait atop a mesa? Or should I just give up hope he’s ever returning in my lifetime. What’s the deal?

There’s a rapture, and it’s no secret.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 April

From the first chapter of Left Behind, the 1995 End Times novel by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

“People are missing,” she managed in a whisper, burying her head in his chest.

He took her shoulders and tried to push her back, but she fought to stay close. “What do you m—?”

She was sobbing now, her body out of control. “A whole bunch of people, just gone!”

“Hattie, this is a big plane. They’ve wandered to the lavs or—”

She pulled his head down so she could speak directly into his ear. Despite her weeping, she was plainly fighting to make herself understood. “I’ve been everywhere. I’m telling you, dozens of people are missing.”

“Hattie, it’s still dark. We’ll find—”

“I’m not crazy! See for yourself! All over the plane, people have disappeared.”

“It’s a joke. They’re hiding, trying to—”

“Ray! Their shoes, their socks, their clothes, everything was left behind. These people are gone!”

They’ve already made two silly movies based on this book. Both depict this chapter: In the middle of a cross-country flight, where it’d be impossible for 100 people to simply disappear, they do. With no warning. No fanfare. No nothing. One moment they’re in their seats; the next they’re gone, with clothes, jewelry, pacemakers, and artificial knees left behind.

The same thing happens in various Christian-produced End Times movies as well. Though not always with the clothes and bric-a-brac left where they last stood. It’s pretty much only LaHaye and Jenkins who had the idea everybody was gonna appear in heaven butt naked.

(But the idea of leaving behind all the inorganic material? I’m not sure they entirely thought out how far this oughta go. If they left behind pins and stents, why not tattoo ink? The meds they last took? The alcohol they last drank? The food additives in their stomachs? The urine in their bladders?)

Well, a mysterious unexplained vanishing is certainly dramatic. But it’s not consistent with the scriptures. At all. Do I have to repeat this? Fine: At all.

Remember when Jesus got raptured?

Acts 1.9-11 KJV
9 And when [Jesus] had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Our rapture is gonna resemble Jesus’s rapture. And he didn’t get naked on the way up.

Nor was it invisible; they watched him go. Nor all that secret; he told ’em he was gonna go.

But y’know, the secret rapture idea is far more dramatic. And frightening. Deliberately meant to be frightening.

Imagine you’re a little kid who grew up hearing these scenarios of a secret rapture, and you firmly believe that’s what happens next: All the Christians disappear, followed by a worldwide tribulation. So one day you’re at home, and you notice you’re all alone. Nobody’s around when you thought they’d be. And for just a moment—in brief but great terror—you wonder whether Jesus raptured the rest of the family… but not you. He left you behind.

More times than I can count, I’ve heard Christians share this very story. They panicked and thought, Did the rapture happen without me? Oh CRAP!

“Don’t you be left behind,” preachers warn ’em ominously. But is this actually how the rapture’s gonna work? Surprise, Jesus took away everybody you love, and it’s the great tribulation for you?


The rapture. Yes, there is one.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 April

1 Thessalonians 4.15-18.

RAPTURE 'ræp.tʃər noun. Feeling of intense pleasure or joy.
2. Capture: The act of seizing and carrying off.
3. The transporting of Christian believers to meet with Christ Jesus [or, to heaven] at his second coming.
4. [verb.] Seizing and carrying off.
5. [verb.] To be taken up [to heaven] to meet with Christ.

A number of Christians don’t believe in the rapture—when the Son of Man appears in the clouds, and his followers meet him in midair. As is taught in today’s passage of scripture, in 1 Thessalonians 4. Yeah, it’s in the bible, but they still don’t believe in it; they don’t take this passage literally. Nor do they interpret it in any way where it loosely represents what’s gonna happen in future. They simply don’t believe in it.

Largely because their churches don’t teach it. Their favorite preachers proclaim an End Times scenario which doesn’t include any rapture. The End of Days theory, fr’instance: The world ends, or we otherwise die, and we go straight to heaven. (Or not.) There’s no rapture in that storyline. Maybe the near-death experience stories of “going towards the light” represents some kind of rapture… but they won’t say “rapture”; they don’t wanna give people the wrong idea.

Then there are the Christians who do believe in the rapture. I’m one of ’em.

Nope, we don’t all agree about what it’ll look like. Most of us take our cues from the bible… but a number of us tweak that image after we pull it from the bible. Tweak it a lot.

Darbyists, fr’instance. Their “prophecy scholars” claim it’ll be secret. We won’t meet Jesus when “the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven,” Mt 24.30, Lk 21.27, Da 7.13 because his second coming happens at the very end of their timeline. But the rapture happens before the very end, at either the beginning or the middle of their timelines. At that point, years before Jesus returns, we Christians will quietly, immediately, mysteriously, vanish. That’s how they claim the rapture will work: It’s a secret rapture.

In the “Left Behind” novels, their depiction of this secret rapture gets downright stupid. All the Christians vanish… and leave behind their clothes, jewelry, and implants like pacemakers and saline breasts; apparently Jesus only wants us buck naked. (’Cause he’ll clothe us, Rv 6.11 but it still comes across as super creepy… and a little pervy.) Oh, and not just Christians: Every child below the age of accountability gets raptured too, ’cause Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Oh, and that includes unborn babies: He raptures ’em straight out of their mothers’ wombs—horrifying every pregnant pagan.

Most Christians consider this the looney-bin version of the End, and wanna distance ourselves from it. But some of us go too far in the other direction: Yeah, the Darbyist secret rapture idea is unbiblical, but they’ll claim the rapture itself is unbiblical too. But like I said, today’s passage teaches it, so that’s not so.

And finally there’s the ignorant category. About a decade ago I ran into some guy who claimed because the word “rapture” isn’t in the bible, there’s no rapture. Following his reasoning, God’s not a trinity either, ’cause the word “trinity” likewise isn’t in the scriptures. But whether “rapture” is in the bible, entirely depends on how you translate the Greek word ἁρπαγησόμεθα/arpagisómetha. The KJV went with “shall be caught up,” and I went with “will be raptured.” ’Cause that’s what rapture means: Seized (by the Holy Spirit) and carried off. Or, in this case, up.

1 Thessalonians 4.15-18 KWL
15 We told you this in the Master’s teaching:
We who remain alive at the Master’s second coming should not precede the “sleepers.”
16 The Master himself, with a shout, with the head angel’s voice, with God’s trumpet,
will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will be resurrected first.
17 Then we who remain alive, at the same time as they, will be raptured into the clouds,
to meet the Master in the air: Thus we will always be with the Master.
18 So assist others with these teachings!

Rapture has the sense of a thief swiping a purse: We’ll be ripped from the earth like a waxer rips the hair off a pair of furry legs. From there we join our King’s invading army before he even touches down. We’re part of his procession, as he takes possession of the world he conquered centuries ago.

That’s the general idea. Of course different Christians believe different specifics.

Getting ready for the second coming?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 March

1 Thessalonians 3.11-13.

If you read 1 Thessalonians 3 in its entirety—and maybe read the whole book like the letter it is, instead of breaking it up into paragraphs, then analyzing the crap out of each paragraph, much like preachers in a sermon series, or me in these articles—you notice how Paul, Silas, and Timothy went on and on and on about how they missed the Thessalonians, fretted about the Thessalonians, wanted so very badly to visit the Thessalonians (well not so much Timothy; he was just there), and were thrilled to pieces about how well the Thessalonians were doing.

So in today’s paragraph, they finally wrap all that up.

1 Thessalonians 3.11-13 KWL
11 God himself, and our Father, and our Master Jesus,
has hopefully directed our path to you.
12 The Master hopefully provided more than enough for you,
in love for one another and for all, just as we also have for you.
13 All to strengthen your blameless minds in holiness before God our Father.
Namely at the second coming of our Master Jesus with all his saints. Amen.

And y’notice they start to move to the next subject-area of the letter: The second coming.

The word the apostles used is παρουσίᾳ/parusía, “coming” or “arrival.” Jesus’s first coming is the time from his birth to his rapture. His second is when he takes over the world. Yes, he makes various visits to individual Christians, like Paul Ac 9.3-6 and Ananias Ac 9.10 and John. Rv 1.12-13 But those aren’t proper comings, ’cause they’re not appearances to everyone. In the second coming, Jesus comes back the same way he left Ac 1.11 —in the clouds with great power. Mk 13.26

Yeah, there are various weird interpretations of what the second coming consists of. No doubt you know one or two. So did the Thessalonians.

Satan’s fall.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 March

Revelation 12.

One of the popular myths about the devil is how Satan used to be an angel. Not that it pretends to be one, 2Co 11.14 but straight-up was one—the mightiest angel in the heavens, named Lucifer. Got deposed, but it used to be a big, big deal.

I’ve challenged many a Christian to actually read their bibles and prove any of this theory from scripture. And I gotta give ’em credit; they do try. But they don’t succeed. It says nowhere in the scriptures Satan used to be an angel. Doesn’t even say Satan was a heavenly being; we just presume so because Satan appeared before God in Job, and we’re kinda assuming they were all in heaven, or thereabouts, at the time. (Job never says where they were.)

Satan’s species is never once identified. Given Satan’s reputation as a liar, Jn 8.44 I’m mighty suspicious about any stories about its origin, like the Lucifer story, which try to make Satan look like it was a big deal at one time.

Or still is. During Jesus’s temptations, Satan claimed to be master of the world’s kingdoms, which it then offered to Jesus. Lk 4.6 Various Christians actually take this statement at face value. Doesn’t it look like the devil rules the world?—though really that’s because humanity lets the devil successfully tempt us into wrecking it. But Jesus’s response was “Get thee hence,” Mt 4.10 KJV i.e. “Get out of here with that nonsense.” Jesus didn’t recognize Satan’s authority at all. The kingdoms of this world belong to him, Jn 12.31, 14.30 not the devil.

Y’see, Satan fell. Jesus watched it fall. Lk 10.18

And about 40 years after his temptation, Jesus presented John of Patmos with a vision of when Satan got tossed from heaven. Whatever the devil used to be, whatever power it was granted, is now irrelevant: It fell. It’s not a heavenly being anymore. It was banished. It’s an earthly being, same as us.

Well, worse than us. Every human has the potential to tap into God’s grace and become one of his kids. Jn 1.12 But in another of Jesus’s revelations to John, he also clued us in to the fact Satan’s never gonna repent. Never gonna avail itself of God’s grace. It’s going into the fire. Rv 20.10 Willingly.

So if you imagine the devil’s a big deal, don’t. It’s a defeated foe. Even we have the power to get it to flee from us. Jm 4.7 Stop fearing it, and start resisting it.

The Wheat and Darnel Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43

Elsewhere in Matthew Jesus tells a story often called the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, from the word tares used in the King James Version to translate ζιζάνια/zidzánia, “darnel.” It’s a specific weed, Lolium temulentum, frequently called “false wheat.”

In ancient times darnel was constantly found in wheat fields. Some darnel always got mixed up with the wheat during the harvest, and it wasn’t until we invented separating machines that people finally got the darnel problem under control. Darnel looks just like wheat when it’s growing… but once the ears appear, any farmer will realize it’s not wheat at all. When they ripen, 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, and if you ate any infected darnel, the symptoms were nausea and a little drunkenness. (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.

Matthew 13.24-30 KWL
24 Jesus set this idea before his students,
saying, “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person scattering good seed in his field.
25 During his slaves’ sleep, his enemy came,
scattered darnel in the middle of the grain, and left.
26 When the shoots sprouted and bore fruit, then the darnel also appeared.
27 Going to him, the householder’s slaves told him,
‘Master, didn’t you scatter good seed in your field? So where’d the darnel come from?’
28 The master told them, ‘This was done by a person—an enemy.’
The slaves told him, ‘So do you want us to maybe pull them up?’
29 The master said, ‘No, lest pulling the darnel up uproots the grain together with it.
30 Allow them to both grow together till harvest.
At harvest time I will tell the harvesters, “Pull up the darnel first.
Bundle them into bundles for them to be burnt up.
Get the grain into my granary.” ’ ”

Later in the chapter, Jesus interprets his own story for his students. They really should’ve been able to interpret this story without his explanation—and probably did, but just wanted him to confirm their conclusions. I’ll get to that later.

The Lambs and Kids Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

Matthew 25.31-46.

The next story in Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, where he taught his students about the End Times, is usually called the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. It all comes from verses 32-33, in which Jesus compares the division of humanity into camps of righteous and reprobate, like a shepherd segregating his flock by species: Lambs on one side, kids on the other. One group to get shorn, one to get milked. Or in this case, one group to go one way, the other to go another.

This story terrifies legalists. Because outside the proper context of God’s grace, it looks like you get into God’s kingdom entirely on merit. You do for Jesus—or, as Jesus puts it, you do for the very lowest of the people he identifies with, which is all the same to him—and you inherit his kingdom. Or you don’t, so you go to hell. So get cracking! Start feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, reforming the prison and healthcare system, and otherwise fixing society!

Wait, is that what legalists do? Nah. Usually they’re too busy getting all paranoid about the rules they designated for themselves, or their cult leaders assigned them. Doing for society?—they don’t. Or they interpret “one of the least of these my brethren” Mt 25.40 KJV as only meaning fellow Christians—or, if they wanna get strict about it, only meaning members of their churches; or if even stricter, only church members of good standing. The stricter you get, the less you gotta love your neighbors. Funny how that works.

More often, Christians just ignore this passage altogether. We figure we’re saved by grace (which we are), but this passage sounds like we’re saved by good works. And we’re not. We know we’re not. We know that we know that we KNOW we’re not. So whatever this passage means, it can’t mean that… and we’re fine with not really knowing what it’s about, so we skip it. Unless we wanna terrify pagans with it.

Of course you realize I’m gonna apply historical context to it, and explain what it’d mean to Jesus’s students who heard it, and point out how entirely consistent it is with God’s grace. Probably to the degree it’ll outrage many a legalist Christian. But whatever. Let’s begin with my translation, and if you wanna compare it with other translations be my guest. I don’t think mine is far different.

Matthew 25.31-46 KWL
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, all the angels with him,
he’ll then sit on his glorious throne
32 and every nation on earth will be gathered together before him.
He separates them like a shepherd, lambs from kids,
33 and will place the lambs at his right, and the kids at his left.
34 The King will then tell those at his right:
‘Come, you who’ve been blessed by my Father!
Inherit the kingdom, prepared for you from the world’s foundation!
35 For I hunger and you feed me. Thirst and you water me.
A foreigner and you include me. 36 Naked and you clothe me.
Weak and you look out for me. Imprisoned and you come to me.’
37 In reply the righteous lambs will then say, ‘Master?
When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and water you?
38 When did we see you a foreigner and include you, or naked and clothe you?
39 When did we see you weak and imprisoned and come to you?’
40 In reply the King will tell them, ‘Amen! I promise you:
Whatever you do for one of the lowest of these people in my family, you do for me.’
41 The King then says to those at his left:
‘Get away from me, you damned people!
Go to the fire of the age, prepared for the devil and its angels!
42 For I hunger and you don’t feed me. Thirst and you don’t water me.
43 A foreigner and you don’t include me. Naked and you don’t clothe me.
Weak and imprisoned and you don’t look out for me.’
44 In reply the kids will say, ‘Master?
When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a foreigner, naked, weak, or imprisoned, and not serve you?’
45 In reply the King will tell them, ‘Amen! I promise you:
Whatever you don’t do for one of the lowest of these, you neither do for me.’
46 These people will go to the correction of the age to come.
The righteous, to life in the age to come.”

The Textus Receptus added the word ἅγιοι/áyiï, “holy,” to verse 31, which is why the King James has “holy angels” instead of just “angels.” As if Jesus would bring unholy angels with him. But whatever.

The Talents Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Matthew 25.13-30.

Nowadays when we say talent we mean a special ability; something one can do which most others can’t. The word evolved to mean that, but in ancient Greek a τάλαντον/tálanton meant either a moneychanger’s scale, or the maximum weight you put on that scale. Usually of silver. Sometimes gold… but if the text doesn’t say which metal they’re weighing, just assume it’s silver.

Talents varied from nation to nation, province to province. When Jesus spoke of talents, he meant the Babylonian talent (Hebrew כִּכָּר/khikhár, which literally means “loaf,” i.e. a big slab of silver). That’d be 30.2 kilograms, or 66.56 pounds. Jews actually had two talents: A “light talent,” the usual talent; and a “heavy talent” or “royal talent” which weighed twice as much. But again: Unless the text says it’s the heavy talent, assume it’s the light one. And of course the Greeks and Romans had their own talents: The Roman was 32.3 kilos and the Greek was 26.

Using 2020 silver rates, a Babylonian talent is $30,200. So yeah, it’s a lot of money. Especially considering you could get away with paying the poor a denarius (worth $3.51) per day. Mt 20.2

When Jesus shared parables about his second coming, he told this story about a master with three slaves, each of whom was given a big bag of silver to supervise. And Jesus compared their experience to what our Master kinda expects of his followers once he returns.

Matthew 25.13-30 KWL
13 “So wake up!—you don’t know the day nor hour.
14 For it’s like a person going abroad:
He calls his slaves to himself, and hands them his belongings.
15 He gives one five talents [$151,000]
and one two [$60,400] and one one [$30,200]
—each according to their own ability. He went abroad.
16 The slave who got five talents went to work on them, and made another five.
17 Likewise the slave with two talents made another two.
18 The slave who got one talent burrowed in the ground
and hid his master’s silver.
19 After a long time, the master came to these slaves
to have a word with them.
20 At the master’s coming, the slave who got five talents
brought another five talents,
saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me.
Look! I made another five talents.’
21 His master told him, ‘Great! My good, trustworthy slave,
you’re trustworthy over a little, and I will put you in charge of much.
Come into your master’s joy.’
22 At the master’s coming, the slave who got two talents
said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me.
Look! I made another two talents.’
23 His master told him, ‘Great! My good, trustworthy slave,
you’re trustworthy over a little, and I will put you in charge of much.
Come into your master’s joy.’
24 At the master’s coming, the slave who got one talent
said, ‘Master, I’ve come to know you as a hard person,
harvesting where you don’t plant, gathering from where you don’t scatter.
25 Fearfully going away, I hid your talent in the ground.
Look! You have what’s yours.’
26 In reply his master told him, ‘My useless, lazy slave,
you figured I harvest where I don’t plant and gather from where I don’t scatter?
27 Therefore you needed to put my silver with the loan sharks!
At my coming I would receive what was mine, with interest!
28 So take the talent away from him.
Give it to the slave who has the 10 talents.
29 For to one who has everything, more will be given, and more will abound.
And to one who hasn’t anything, whatever one does have will be taken away from them.
30 The useless slave? Throw him into the darkness outside.
There, there’ll be weeping and teeth gnashing in rage.’ ”

The word δοῦλος/dúlos tends to get translated “servant” (as the KJV did), but nope; it means slave. Hebrew slavery didn’t treat slaves as permanent property, but as people contractually bound to their master till the next Sabbath year. American slaves would rarely, if ever, be entrusted with as much authority as Hebrews did their slaves. Whole different mindset.

Our Father who art in heaven.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 September

Matthew 6.9-10.

The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew begins with πάτερ ἡμῶν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς/páter imón o en toís uranoís, “our Father who’s [located] in the heavens,” Mt 6.9 ’cause we’re addressing—duh—our heavenly Father.

Matthew 6.9 KWL
“So pray like this: Our Father who’s in the heavens! Sanctify your name.”

Some Christians wanna make it particularly clear which god we’re praying to. Partly because some of ’em actually think they might accidentally invoke the wrong god (and y’know, if they’re Mammonists or some other type of idolater, they might). Sometimes because they’re showing off to pagans that they worship the Father of Jesus, or some other form of hypocrisy. But Jesus would have us keep it simple: Just address our heavenly Father. There’s no special formula for addressing him; no secret password we’ve gotta say; even “in Jesus’s name” isn’t a magic spell—and you notice “in Jesus’s name” isn’t in the Lord’s Prayer either. You know who he is; he knows who he is; he knows what our relationship consists of; that’s fine.

As I said in the Lord’s Prayer article, Jesus isn’t the first to teach people God is our Father. Many a Pharisee prayer, and many Jewish prayers nowadays, address God as אָבִינוּ/avínu, “our Father”—like Avínu Malkéinu (“our Father, our king”), recited during fasts and the high holidays. If we have a relationship with him, and we should through Jesus, we should have no hesitation to approach him boldly. He 4.16 He loves us; he wants to be gracious to us; let’s feel free to talk with him about anything and everything.

666, the Beast’s number.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 June

In Revelation John was given an apocalyptic vision of two animals. The first is a leopard with bear paws, seven heads, and 10 horns; and it fights the saints and gets the people of earth to worship it. Christian popular culture tends to call it the Beast, as the KJV translates θηρίον/thiríon; or the Antichrist, ’cause too many of us speculate it’ll claim to be Christ. (Even though Revelation says no such thing. Go look.) The second animal has horns like a lamb, performs “miracles” in support of the first animal, and forces everyone to worship the first animal and its talking ikon.

And this:

Revelation 13.16-18 KWL
16 It made it so everyone—small and great, rich and poor, freemen and slaves—
might give themselves a stamp on their right hand, or on their forehead.
17 Thus no one was able to buy nor sell unless they had the stamp:
The first animal’s name, or the number of its name.
18 Here’s some wisdom: Those with a brain, calculate the animal’s number.
It’s a person’s number, and its number is 666.

The UBS Greek New Testament spells it out as ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ/exakósiï exíkonta ex, “six hundred sixty six.” The Textus Receptus instead uses the Greek letters ΧΞϚ, which is how ancient Greeks wrote numbers before they discovered Arabic numerals: They borrowed letters from their alphabet. The first nine letters were the first nine numbers; the next nine were the numbers 10, 20, 30, and so on up to 90; the next nine were the numbers 100, 200, 300, till they ran out of letters. So chi was used for 600, xi for 60, and stigma for 6.

There’s a textual variant in some ancient copies of Revelation which says the number is 616. So a lot of bibles mention that in their footnotes… just in case. Y’never know.

So if you have a brain, and wanna know who the leopard with seven heads represents, its number is 666. Figure it out!

Here’s the problem: Too many people don’t have a brain, and aren’t gonna bother to figure it out. They’re just gonna connect the dots, then panic. Fear makes people stop thinking, y’know: Fight-or-flight kicks in, and that’s all they do from that part onward. It’s why John addresses those of us who pursue wisdom: Don’t squander this clue.

First we gotta learn what a person’s number is. And no, I’m not talking about your social security number, your employee ID number, your credit card number, your PIN number, or any of the other numbers arbitrarily or deliberately connected to you.


A lot of people correctly figure “the number of a man” Rv 13.18 KJV is figured out by taking their name, converting the letters into numbers, and adding up all the numbers. Or if you’re really desperate to find a connection, doing some other stuff to the numbers: Multiplying ’em, bunching ’em together; anything which adds up to 666. Anything which connects the dots.

So how do we convert letters into numbers?

Well, most of us learned to cypher when we were kids. Cypher is to substitute something else for the letters of our alphabet. Sometimes another letter; sometimes a number; sometimes a symbol. (Some daily newspapers still publish cyphers, give you a few hints as to which letter meant what, and let amateur codebreakers have a little fun trying to crack the cypher.) The most basic cypher we learned was the simple letter-to-number substitution cypher: A=1, B=2, C=3, and so on till Z=26.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught Christians trying to use this cypher to figure out if someone’s the Beast.

When John wrote Revelation, was he thinking about the English alphabet? Or its predecessor the Latin alphabet? (Same alphabet, but I was split into I and J, and V was split into U, V, and W.) Not even close. For that matter the Latins didn’t even do this themselves. They decided I=1, V=5, X=10… you know, Roman numerals. (As you’ve seen on clocks, Super Bowls, and Star Wars episodes.)

John wasn’t speaking of calculating “the number of a man” with the Latin alphabet. Nor even the Greek alphabet. He had Hebrew in mind. Because calculating a person’s number was a Jewish practice. They called it gematria—from a bad translation of γεωμετρία/geometria, “geometry.” Many Jews still practice it, as part of Kabbalah.

Same as the Greeks, the Hebrew alphabet assigns a numeric value to each Hebrew letter. Today’s Hebrew-speakers still use it sometimes, same as we do with Roman numerals.


So alef is 1, bet 2, gimel 3, and so forth till 10; then they go up by tens, then hundreds till you’re out of alphabet.

Notice kaf, mem, nun, pe, and chadë have two letters. The second letter (usually the one with the tail) is a sofít, a final-case letter. You know how we have uppercase letters at the beginning of some words? Final-case is the form which goes at the end of words. Since some folks wish Hebrew had 27 letters instead of 22 so they could count up to 900, they claim those final-case letters have extra values:

ךkaf sofit500
םmem sofit600
ןnun sofit700
ףpe sofit800
ץchadë sofit900

But nearly every Jew gives the final-case letters the same value as usual.

So every Hebrew letter has a numerical value. And in gematria, every Hebrew word also has a numerical value. Add up the value of its letters, and there y’go. Jesus’s name ישוע consists of yod (10), shin (300), waw (6), and ayin (70). Add ’em up and you get 386. That’s Jesus’s number.

(Yeah, there are folks who insist Jesus’s number is 777. That’s because somebody told them so… and they really like sevens. But obviously they’ve never double-checcked. Few do. And no, we don’t get 777 any other legitimate way. “Messiah Jesus” is 744. “King Jesus” is 411. “Jesus of Nazareth” is 1166. “Jesus son of Mary” gets 618 in Hebrew and 838 in Aramaic. The only way you can squeeze 777 out of “Jesus” is to use the wrong alphabet, or a mishmash of wrong alphabets. And gematria isn’t that hard.)

I should point out: Both Christians and Jews are really leery of gematria. For good reason. It’s not just used to figure out the numerical values of words for fun. In Kabbalah, a sect of rabbinical Judaism which specializes in mystery, they claim any word can be swapped for any other word with the same numerical value: If they share a numerical value, they share a spiritual value too. So if you wanna have a “new revelation,” it’s simple: Pick any verse from the bible, swap a few words with their numerical “equivalents,” and presto: A new teaching!

Take lo tináf, “Don’t adulter.” Ex 20.14 Tináf is worth 531. And so, coincidentally enough, is Florence Henderson. So if you don’t really feel like watching Brady Bunch reruns, there y’go: “According to Kabbalah, Exodus 20.14 can also mean ‘No Florence Henderson.’ So I’m sorry; I just can’t watch that.”Which is all kinds of wrong to both bible and to national treasure Florence Henderson.

John’s advice in Revelation obviously refers to gematria. So we’re permitted to use it to figure out the Beast’s number: Take a given person’s name. Convert it into Hebrew. (Google Translate will do that job for you easily.) Add up the numerical value of the letters.

And once that person’s name adds up to 666, he or she might be the Beast. Might not be. But if they start doing anything Beast-like, the number of their name confirms they’re a valid suspect.

I had a student once who was worried she might be the Beast. So I taught her how to calculate the number of her name. Wasn’t even close. Was that a load off her mind.

Okay. So that’s the proper use of 666: It’s a checksum to make sure someone isn’t the Beast. That’s all. That person who is the Beast will be the person to worry about. The number itself isn’t the problem.

Various other irrational fears.

Of course, I tell people about gematria and they look at me sideways: “I’ve never heard that before. I don’t think that’s right.” And they go back to their other favorite, tried-and-never-proven methods of Beast detection.

Or, more commonly, superstition. Pure pagan, didn’t-come-from-God, never-would-come-from-God, superstition. Any time they come across the number 666, they flinch in fear. Won’t abide it in their phone numbers, their serial numbers, their license plates, anything. If they’re buying groceries and the total comes to $6.66, they quickly buy something else to bump it up to $7.65.

True, the second beast uses the stamp in relation to commerce. Rv 13.17 So Christians are particularly sensitive to 666 in financial transactions. After all, that’s the most likely place the number will come up. There used to be some rumor going round of the word “Visa” secretly representing 666: The VI is obviously the Roman numeral 6; the ancient Greeks used stigma, which kinda looks like an S, for six; and presumably A becomes a six in some other culture, though I’ve yet to see a satisfactory explanation for it. (Ask whichever friends of yours post the most conspiracy theories on Facebook. They’ll know.)

But out of context, the number’s nothing to fear. It only exposes fearful Christians as lacking wisdom.

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.


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.


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.


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 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 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.