Tag Archives: Apocalypse

Is This the End!?

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation…
2 Peter 3:14-15 (NIV)

In recent months, I’ve had multiple followers of Jesus who I know to be learned and wise ask me whether I believe the return of Christ will happen in our lifetime. I’ll get to my response in a few moments, but let me explain the question, and why I find it fascinating.

Jesus spoke quite directly about a day when He would return in the final chapters of the Great Story (see Matthew 24-25). At His ascension, Jesus’ followers were told by angels that He would one day return just as He departed (see Acts 1). Naturally, The Twelve asked Him “when” (multiple times). Each time they asked, Jesus responded that the answer to “when” is “hidden” with Father God. Before the ascension, He quite directly told His followers, “It’s not for you to know.”

So, of course, like children being told we can’t play with a certain toy, it only serves to make us want the thing even more. In today’s chapter, Peter addresses those in his generation who desperately wanted know “when,” along with addressing those who scoffed at the notion it would ever happen. And so, I’ve watched people in my generation obsessed with cracking the mystery that the Son of God Himself said was hidden from even Him and “not for you to know.”

And, that’s why I found it intriguing that my wise and learned friends are asking the question to which they and I both understand to be unknowable. Why is this question being asked now? And how do I answer?

First, as an amateur historian, I’ve come to believe that from the time Peter was first scratching out his second letter to today, there has not been a single generation that has not contained individuals convinced that Jesus return and the end times would happen in their lifetime. In addition, the more tumultuous the times (wars, plagues, revolutions, etc.) the more acutely people have felt “this is it!” Furthermore, I have observed in my own lifetime that the older believers get (and feel the impending end of their own life journey) the more they feel anxious about the changes of life and culture in their own lifetime. Thus, as they feel the end of their own earthly journey drawing nigh, they become convinced that the end of all things is near.

Second, and keeping these things in mind, I must also logically conclude that some of the descriptions of life in the end times as revealed in Revelation have never been more possible: cataclysmic natural disasters, events that affect the entire globe, one-word government, one global currency, the entirety of a persons finances and transactions being dictated by some kind of mark on the hand or forehead, and etc. Never in human history have these descriptions been more possible or probable.

So, it makes sense to me that my friends are asking this unknowable question. We are living in tumultuous times while at the same time observing that the events described in the final chapters of the Great Story feel less like spiritual science fiction and more like current events.

When asked the question of “when” by The Twelve, Jesus told them a story of unmarried bridesmaids whose responsibility it was to have their oil lamps filled and trimmed in anticipation of the bridegroom arriving for the wedding. It was their responsibility to provide illumination for the nighttime ceremony, and their lamps illuminated these eligible girls for all the eligible groomsmen and guests looking for a wife! In the story, some of the bridesmaids (like the scoffers of every generation who say, “It’s never going to happen”) got tired of waiting for the groom, and essentially gave up, believing the groom would never show up. But he did, and they were caught off guard. Not only would they be shamed for not upholding their duty, but they would also miss out on finding a husband themselves.

And, that’s my answer.

Are these events going to happen? Yes! Absolutely!

Will they happen in our life time? I don’t know. Silly question.

Am I ready if they do? Yes, of course. That’s what Jesus asks of me. Bring it on!

In the meantime, I wait and walk this journey doing the best I can to love God and love others in increasing measure in hope that others will follow along with me. I’m ready if Jesus should return, unconcerned whether it happens in my lifetime or not, and content not to know the unknowable.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Apocalypse and Labor Pains

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
Mark 13:8 (NIV)

I recently finished a three-episode podcast series on time. The second episode of the podcast specifically on the so-called “end times” and the apocalypse. The apocalyptic and dystopian has always captured the human imagination, and one of the observations that I made in the podcast is that every generation has those who believe the end is near. I have also observed a pattern within every community of Jesus followers with whom I’ve been associated. As they get older, the more likely it is that they will be convinced that the return of Jesus and the apocalyptic end prophesied in Revelation is near. There must be something human in us that feels comforted by projecting our fear about the end of our own earthly journey on all humankind.

Well,” I hear an older woman [let’s cast Dame Maggie Smith in the role] saying with a shrug, “If I’ve got to die, it would be nice to have some company.

These things came to mind this morning as Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the persecution of His followers, and His eventual return “in power and glory.”

As I read the chapter, there was one little phrase that Jesus specifically uses that I have overlooked for my entirety of my forty years as a follower. He calls the signs of His prophetic events “birth pains.”

This brings to mind my last podcast episode in which I discussed the over-arching themes of the Great Story. One of them being:

Creation –> Destruction –> New Creation

So, the logical question I have to ask myself is: “What naturally happens after ‘birth pains’?”

A birth.

A new life.

A new start.

A beginning.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that Jesus told His followers not to worry, and not to be afraid, even in the midst of persecution, suffering, and apocalyptic predictions of incredible suffering and destruction.

It is ironic that Jesus encourages such faith and trust. It is just a day or two before He knows that He will endure incredible persecution, injustice, suffering, death, and hell. Jesus has prophesied that He will exemplify this apocalyptic, overarching Great Story theme. The events about to take place at the end of His own earthly journey are layered with meaning. They will be both a micro-human event and a macro-spiritual event. His trials, suffering, death, and resurrection are the “birth pains.” Even as Jesus says these words, amidst the escalation of conflict and the death threats of His enemies, He is feeling the contractions of His divine role in the Great Story. He is providing the example. He is blazing the trail. He is leading the way which does not end on the cross. It is the labor that will give birth to new life:

Life –> Death –> Resurrection

I am also reminded this morning that most apocalyptic movies and stories do not end with the depressing end of all things, but with the seeds of new hope being planted.

All good stories are a reflection of the Great Story.

 “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

Jesus

And,” I imagine Jesus saying with a shrug, “if I’m going to live, I’d love to have some company.”

Apocalypse, World View and Work

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?
Matthew 24:44-45 (NIV)

Whether we know it or not, each one of us approach life with a certain ingrained perspective. It’s called a world view and we each have one. Our world view determines how we perceive and react to events and circumstances around us. If something happens that doesn’t fit neatly into our world view, it can be rather disconcerting.

I thought a lot about world view this past November when Donald Trump unexpectedly won the Presidency. It was an event that most of us never could have imagined happening. We know that anyone can run for President, but we’ve come to expect from history that the winner is always going to be a member of the political establishment.

The election results definitely shook things up, and with it came all sorts of apocalyptic thinking. I still feel it simmering beneath the surface of news articles, posts, and current events. Along my life journey I’ve noticed this pattern in human behavior. If we’re rattled hard enough we go into doomsday mode.

As I sat in my hotel room on election night at 1:00 a.m. swapping text messages with Wendy and Taylor I got to thinking about world views. Among followers of Jesus the prevailing world view has been a predominantly medieval one in which things are going to get worse and worse and worse and worse until the very end when Jesus returns in a eucatastrophic moment.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a teacher of medieval literature and his epics reflect this world view. Saruman is a great example of how Tolkien viewed modern man felling the innocence of the trees to fuel his machines of war. (Interesting to think how serving in WWI and living through WWII may have affected his world view. ) Darkness grows and spreads until the forces of good stand on the field of battle outnumbered and hopeless. Then at the darkest moment something happens to miraculously bring about unexpected victory. That’s what he called eucatastrophe.

There is another world view among followers of Jesus, however, that holds that things are actually getting better [cue: The Beatles’ It’s Getting Better All the Time]. It’s the “glass is actually half-full” world view. This world view holds that despite the headlines and 24 hour news channels skewing our perspective by bombarding us with the latest tragedies from around the globe, the situation world-wide is actually better today than at any point in human history. There’s less disease, life spans are the longest they’ve ever been, things are safer than they’ve ever been globally, and food production is the highest it’s ever been around the globe. Poverty world-wide is lower than its ever been in history and what we would call “poor” in today’s world is far different (and better) than our definition just a generation or two ago.

In today’s chapter Jesus gives his followers some generalities about what’s to come in the future. It reads like the medieval world view with wars, famines, false messiahs, and Jesus returning when no one is expecting it. Even in the description Jesus admits that He does not know the exact timing of events.

These things are fascinating to think about, and many people dedicate much of their lives to studying eschatology and all the various theories of the end times. Google it and you’ll find all sorts of charts, graphs, opinions, and theories about what’s to come.

I found it interesting that Jesus concludes His apocalyptic overview with a parable of a servant in charge of feeding his master’s servants while the master is away. When the master returns the only question was whether or not the servant was found doing what he was supposed to do. Jesus’ message is clear: Don’t worry about these ordained events that I cannot control. Worry about being faithful to do each day those things I am called to do. Actively love God. Actively love others. The rest will take care of itself.

On election night our daughter asked me to text her something wise. I don’t know how wise my message was, but I gave her my perspective at that moment. Donald Trump may be President, but the next morning I was going to get up, go to work, and do the things I do everyday. Just like I did when Obama was President, and Bush 43, and Clinton, and Bush 41. Life goes on. My job is to focus my time and attention on my spheres of influence and doing the things I’m called to do to the best of my ability.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do 😉

A Less Than Trivial Question of Direction

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders ...
The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders of the Apocalypse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackclothmade of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Revelation 6:12-14 (NIV)

Over the past year or so I have been slowly listening to Professor Corey Olsen’s series of podcast lectures on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Over the same period of time, I’ve been reading Tolkien’s letters. For me, one of the most profound things to come out of both the lectures and the letters is a seemingly minor point, which I have come to recognize as having profound implications. Professor Olsen observes that Tolkien was a medievalist, and in the middle ages the common world view was that the world and humanity were slowly getting worse and inevitably heading towards destruction. Tolkien clearly believed that our technological advances were not actually advancing society in a positive way*. You see this played out in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as the machines of war created by Sauron and Saruman are set against the powers of nature in forms of tree herds, floods of water, and eternal powers hidden in the forests.

The idea that we are moving towards destruction, of course, flies in the face of what I find to be the common world view today. We like to believe that humanity is inherently good constantly getting better. Technology and human advancement is moving us towards a better world in which peoples and nations come to mutual understanding and respect. Famine gives way to food for all. Death gives way to medical miracles. Pestilence gives way to environmental utopia. War gives way to peace as we all embrace the better angels of our nature.

As I look around me, read the headlines from around the globe, and talk to people of diverse opinions, I have come to believe that this seemingly trivial question of  which direction the world is heading isn’t really trivial at all. It’s fundamental to the way we perceive and approach life.

Today’s chapter reads like a medievalist’s nightmare. Things are not getting better, they are quickly getting worse on the Earth. The four riders of the apocalypse spread war, death, famine and pestilence across the earth. Believers are persecuted and slaughtered for their faith. And, reading like a number Hollywood disaster movies, stars fall from the sky with ensuing cataclysmic effects of nature, sending people scurrying into the mountains to escape the disaster.

I am a relatively positive person. I try to approach life with a “glass half-full” perspective, look for the goodness in others, and seek to discover the silver lining in tragic circumstances. At the same time, I look back across my lifetime. I study history. I cannot see a fundamental change in human nature. I’ve seen tremendous advances in treating symptomatic human problems, but I’ve also seen that the cures often create their own set of problems. I have not seen major shifts in addressing the underlying problems of human greed, the lust for power, hatred, selfishness, not to mention the senseless evil (the existence of which many choose to ignore) I find always at work under the surface and in the shadows.

Today, I am feeling a bit sobered. I believe that history is, indeed, an epic battle of good and evil. I believe that tragically flawed humanity is forever erecting a tower of Babel and seeking a pinnacle of god-like goodness that it can never, and will never attain. I believe that God and good is at work achieving amazing victories small and large, and I believe that the enemy, evil is at work ever thwarting, marring, and twisting for selfish, chaotic ends. I believe that Life and good will win in the end, but I also believe that today’s chapter stands as a reminder of what we instinctively know in our souls; That which resonates in our greatest epic stories: there is darkness before the dawn.

*From a letter 9 August 1945, Tolkien writes to his son Christopher: “The news today about ‘Atomic bombs’ is so horrifying one is stunned. The utter folly of these lunatic physicists to consent to do such work for war-purposes: calmly plotting the destruction of the world! Such explosives in men’s hands, while their moral and intellectual status is declining, is about as useful as giving out firearms to all inmates of a gaol and then saying that you hope ‘this will ensure peace’. But one good thing may arise out of it, I suppose, if the write-ups are not overheated: Japan ought to cave in. Well we’re in God’s hands. But He does not look kindly on Babel-builders.”

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Chapter-a-Day Mark 13

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” Mark 13:32 (NLT)


I could not help this morning but be reminded of a few months ago when an obscure, quack pot preacher named Harold Camping predicted the end of the world on May 22 and,  because of a national billboard campaign, it became national news. He’d made the prediction before and was just as wrong. Just last year the news was all about the fact that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 and, spurred on by a Hollywood movie that picked up on the storyline, everyone was predicting the world’s end.

Throughout my journey I’ve witnessed several doomsday predictions. Hal Lindsey‘s book 1983 Countdown to Armageddon was a big seller. I lived through 1984 when George Orwell‘s famous book of the same title created all sorts of doomsday talk. I lived through Y2K and the craziness of people stockpiling food and supplies for the apocalypse that was predicted. The Camping incident and the 2012 nonsense are just two more in a long string of doomsday predictions. As humans we tend to be obsessed with apocalypse. Knowing that, the news media loves to play into those base human fears.

Here is my easy three step guide for responding to end-of-the-world predictions. This is based on two very simple observations and one crucial teaching Jesus made:

  1. Doomsday will eventually happen. Don’t kid yourself.
  2. No one has inside information when it will be. Not even Jesus Himself. Period.
  3. We don’t need to be afraid: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:26 (NLT) “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28 (NLT)

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 14

There is a blueprint. God-of-the-Angel-Armies speaks: "Exactly as I planned, it will happen. Following my blueprints, it will take shape." Isaiah 14:24 (MSG)

In the months leading up to the dawn of the 21st century, the world was whipped into a frenzy with fear of worldwide disaster of doomsday proportions. Everyday the news media ran stories about the impending crash of the world's computer systems. All of the world's computers had been programmed to assume the year always began with "19," and it was believed that when the year turned to "20" the computers would crash. People started hoarding food and water and made plans for their survival in the apocalyptic world of "Y2K." There were predictions of planes falling out of the sky and entire governments collapsing.

And then…nothing happened. It was all a bunch of hype. Much ado about nothing.

Now, when I hear predictions of doomsday I remember Y2K. It's not that I don't think disaster of world-wide proportion can happen. From what God's message says, I think we can safely say that it will. Nevertheless, I take heart in knowing that there is a plan. God has a blueprint. My attention is to be given to faithfully walking the path set before me, persevering on the narrow way ordained for me. Where it leads in this life, and how it fits into God's grand design is something I can entrust to Him.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and brianbutko

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 14

There is a blueprint. God-of-the-Angel-Armies speaks: "Exactly as I planned, it will happen. Following my blueprints, it will take shape." Isaiah 14:24 (MSG)

In the months leading up to the dawn of the 21st century, the world was whipped into a frenzy with fear of worldwide disaster of doomsday proportions. Everyday the news media ran stories about the impending crash of the world's computer systems. All of the world's computers had been programmed to assume the year always began with "19," and it was believed that when the year turned to "20" the computers would crash. People started hoarding food and water and made plans for their survival in the apocalyptic world of "Y2K." There were predictions of planes falling out of the sky and entire governments collapsing.

And then…nothing happened. It was all a bunch of hype. Much ado about nothing.

Now, when I hear predictions of doomsday I remember Y2K. It's not that I don't think disaster of world-wide proportion can happen. From what God's message says, I think we can safely say that it will. Nevertheless, I take heart in knowing that there is a plan. God has a blueprint. My attention is to be given to faithfully walking the path set before me, persevering on the narrow way ordained for me. Where it leads in this life, and how it fits into God's grand design is something I can entrust to Him.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and brianbutko