Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Revelations published by Tom Vander Well in June and July of 2022. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.
Tag Archives: Doomsday
Ignorant, Mindful, and Ready
The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.
Revelation 8:4 (NIV)
As a student of history and as a mindful observer of life, I have noted that followers of Jesus in every generation seem to be convinced that we are in the end times. This is not the first time I’ve mentioned it on this chapter-a-day journey. It seems to me that as human beings age and we feel our own sense of dread with the inevitable approach of “the end” of our own earthly journey, it is easy to project this sense of “the end” on the world around us.
As a young man, I read books that predicted the world wouldn’t last beyond my high school years. Since I graduated high school in 1984, many would-be prophets mingled Orwell and Revelation in predicting doomsday. I seem to remember televangelists predicting the date of the rapture and the beginning of the end on more than one occasion. Then came the doomsday scenarios of the end of the 20th century that mingled the apocalypse with the Y2K global computer meltdown (history shows that apocalyptic predictions spring up at the end of centuries like flowers in spring). More recently, we had the end of the Mayan calendar that people associated with the end of all things.
With this in mind, I want to be careful with my thoughts on today’s chapter. I don’t want you to read what I’m not writing.
In today’s chapter, John’s vision from God’s throne room in heaven continues. When the seventh seal on the scroll is broken there is a dramatic pause, thirty minutes of silence before the next round of judgments on the earth begin. The prayers of God’s people rise as incense before God’s throne. Recall the cries of those who’d been martyred in chapter six: “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
I always have to remember as I read the Great Story that God layers life with certain themes. Just a few weeks ago in a Message among my local gathering of Jesus followers, I gave the example of how the diagram of an atom looks like a little solar system. The moon revolving around the earth, the planets revolving around the sun, and our solar system in the galaxy continue to expand this layered motif outward into the expanding universe. God is an artist, and he layers themes and motifs in both creation and in the Great Story.
The prayers and cries of the martyrs (those believers through history who were tortured and killed because of their faith) echo God hearing the prayers of God’s people enslaved in Egypt (Ex 3:7). The judgments and plagues in today’s chapter and subsequent chapters echo the plagues on Egypt. God’s deliverance of humanity from the shackles of a fallen world ruled by evil as we read it in the book of Revelation is a macrocosm of the story of God delivering His people from Egypt.
As the angels blow their trumpets of judgment in today’s chapter, plagues fall on the earth. The hail mixed with blood echoes the ninth plague on Egypt. The sea turned to blood echoes the first Egyptian plague. The waters turning bitter in the third trumpet are the reverse of God turning the bitter waters sweet at Marah for the Hebrews. The fourth trumpet echoes the ninth plague on Egypt.
I couldn’t help but notice that the consequences of the trumpet plagues are largely disruptions of nature which will disrupt commerce which in turn will wreak havoc on the global supply chain, which will only fuel economic and international strife, which will only fuel the works of the four riders of the apocalypse that have already been loosed: conquest, war, violence, famine, and death.
Disruption of supply chains, disruptions caused by war, supply shortages, famine, inflation, economic disruption, anger, violence: sound familiar? Yes, I can’t help but see the current events around me and think to myself how quickly things can spiral and descend in an out-of-control chain of events around the globe.
And this is where I don’t want you to read what I’m not writing. I’m not saying we are in the end times. I continue to maintain, as Jesus taught, that no one knows the day and the hour. I’m determined to cling to this ignorance. I can, however, read today’s chapter, look at current events, and appreciate how cataclysmic events like a global pandemic, natural disasters, wars, and famines can quickly destabilize the entire world as is described in the “Trumpet Judgments” in today’s chapter. And while Jesus said that I don’t know the hour and the day, He told multiple parables in which He encouraged His followers to be alert and to always be ready for the end to arrive.
And so, I enter today mindful and endeavoring to be ready, come what may in my own lifetime.
Note: Four recent messages were added to the Messages page today, an archive of YouTube and MP3 fiiles of messages.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Grab Your Bug-Out Bag!
“Gather up your bundle from the ground,
O you who live under siege!
For thus says the Lord:
I am going to sling out the inhabitants of the land
at this time….”
Jeremiah 10:17-18 (NRSVCE)
Among the sub-culture of the “wild-at-heart” man’s man is a thing known as a bug-out bag. There was a lot of buzz about it among some of the guys in my circles a few years back. The bug-out bag is a single duffle or backpack (you have to be able to carry it) that contains what you need to survive should nuclear war, EMP grid blackout, Zombie apocalypse, or other kind of Mad Max or Hunger Games type dystopia become a sudden reality. The bug-out bag contains things you need to survive like water, food, and the means to create shelter. Oh, and a weapon to kill Zombies or hunt down your next meal is always a wise choice. For the record, I don’t have a bug-out bag so I guess Wendy and I are screwed should any of the aforementioned events transpire.
Life in Jeremiah’s day was infinitely more precarious that the one we live in today. As a human being you’d be fortunate to survive infancy, and if you did survive into your teens you could expect the average life-span to be around 30 years. Disease, famine, and local wars were a constant threat. At that time in history local city-states and tribal kingdoms were being swallowed up by rapidly growing regional empires who had begun to perfect their tactics of military aggression, siege warfare, and political assimilation. The Assyrian and Babylonian empires were chief among them.
Jeremiah’s broken-record prophesies were not really that crazy to the people of his day. The Assyrians and Babylonians had a reputation for ruthlessness that was well-known and well deserved. Assyria had already destroyed their cousins in the northern kingdom of Israel (Jerusalem was part of the southern kingdom of Judah). The prevailing tactic of regional Empires was to take over the city, plunder anything valuable, kill the leaders and take the best and brightest hostage (FYI: Daniel was one of these). So, when Jeremiah wrote in today’s chapter that the people of Jerusalem should grab their bug-out bags, they knew what he was talking about (and it wasn’t a Zombie apocalypse).
For those reading along with this chapter-a-day journey, it should also be noted that Jerusalem had been attacked just a generation before by the Assyrians. In that day the Jerusalem was miraculously spared as the enemy army was mysteriously wiped out overnight (2 Kings 19). This, of course, made Jeremiah’s prophetic task more difficult. The people of Jeremiah’s day believed that God would miraculously save them just as He had done before.
This morning I’m thinking about all the doomsday predictions I’ve heard across my lifetime. From Christian teachers and their mesmerizing interpretations of Revelation to economists warning of global monetary collapse to environmentalists warning of a coming ice age (that was the prediction I heard in elementary school) or global warming meltdown. With the proliferation of voices via the internet there is no lack of fear-inducing doomsday predictions to go around. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit-hole of fear.
When confronted with doomsday predictions I find myself trying to be discerning. I can’t do anything about the timing of events in Revelation so I might as well focus each day on loving others as Jesus calls me to do and not worry about that which I can’t control. I believe God calls us to care for the Earth, so Wendy and I try to be good stewards of natural resources, recycle, and make wise choices for the sake of the environment whenever we can. Yet, once again, there is only so much I can do on a personal level and what will be is out of my control. It seems a waste of mental and emotional energy to live in perpetual fear of that which I don’t know and can’t control.
I confess, however, that the notion of having a bug-out bag (with a compass and one of those giant Rambo-like survival knives) does stir my manly spirit. “Arrrggghh!”
“Your own conduct and actions
have brought this on you.
This is your punishment.
How bitter it is!
How it pierces to the heart!”
Jeremiah 4:18 (NIV)
Reckoning is word we don’t use very often any more. It is the the process of settling accounts. It is the day that the bill comes due. Metaphorically used, a “day of reckoning” may not have anything to do with money. It’s when our actions come to their natural conclusion.
On a national level, I’ve been hearing economic prophets crying in the wilderness about a “day of reckoning” for as long as I can remember. We spend more than we take in. The U.S. national debt was at 20 trillion dollars and growing when I looked at it this morning. Every bill our congress passes has a host of pork barrel riders and appropriations (often called “earmarks”) for spending money on pet local projects our lawmakers have promised to the people who’ve lined their pockets back home. The President has no line-item veto so if he wants credit for the main bill he has to quietly put up with all of the quiet little pork barrel projects no one talks about. Wink wink. Nudge nudge. Say no more. This is not a political issue, by the way. This is a systemic issue. Everyone does it on both sides of the aisle. Making hard choices won’t get you re-elected, so we continue our game of cost-shifting. How long can it go on? [cue: the economic doomsday prophets]
On a personal level, I make daily choices that impact my health, my relationships, and my physical, social, and economic well-being. Eventually, there will be a day of reckoning when my seemingly insignificant choices will come to their natural conclusions.
It is very human to cry “Why me?” when the shit hits the fan. Yet along life’s journey I’ve discovered that the answer to that question isn’t usually as elusive as I’d like to pretend. If I turn around and look at the choices I’ve made and the steps I’ve taken across my journey, I can usually see the path of seemingly small, insignificant choices that have led me to this place. I have no one to blame but myself. But, blame-shifting is as common to the human condition as cost-shifting. I’ve observed along my journey that God often gets the blame when we humans adroitly employ our penchant for blame-shifting.
In today’s chapter, Jeremiah is poetically prophesying doomsday scenarios for his nation. Anticipating the eventual blame-shifting the people will employ on the day of reckoning, he reminds them that on that day it will have been their own choices that will have brought them to that place.
This morning I’m thinking about my own life, my own choices, and my own circumstances. Another word we don’t use very often is “repentance.” The original meaning is a word picture of turning around and moving in the opposite direction. Each day represents an opportunity for me to turn away from foolish choices and to start making wise ones. Every day affords the opportunity to change my day of reckoning from a doomsday scenario to that of blessing.
I hear the whisper of my mother’s voice…or is it Holy Spirit?
“Make good choices today.”
Have a good day, my friends.
It’ll Pan Out in the End
The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.
Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.
Zechariah 14:9, 16 (NIV)
One can’t journey through the totality of God’s Message without running into prophetic messages of the end of things as we know them, though it is important to note that the idea of there being an “end” is a misnomer because God consistently speaks of “new” beginnings. “Old things pass away, new things come” aptly describes one of God’s core message to us throughout the Great Story.
Even in creation of all that we know, the process of death and life is ever-present. Science tells us that the totality of this expanding, living universe is made up of energy that takes on different forms and phases. When solid matter dies and decays it is converted to a different kind of energy that, in turn, feeds other systems. We bury or burn a dead body, it decays, biodegrades or is consumed and the ecosystem uses the converted energy to feed the system in other ways.
The book of Revelation, which we often think of as describing “the end” because it reveals a chaotic time of pain and suffering. But the book actually ends with comfort, peace, joy, and new life in a new beginning:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
Revelation 21:1 (NIV)
Today’s final chapter of Zechariah follows the exact same pattern. There is a period of intense conflict and suffering followed by a new reality under a sovereign God who calls everyone to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was an annual harvest feast. Think about it, harvest is that time of year when all that has been sown, cultivated, watered, tended, and pruned is finally harvested. In other words, as plants reach the end of their life-cycle we chop it down and gather it so that it, in turn, will feed everyone (its solid matter changed to a different kind of energy in our digestive systems) and perpetuate life.
Along my life journey I have studied many different theories on the mysterious prophetic texts of the Bible. One thing that I’ve come to learn about prophetic imagery is that it is easy to find in all the mysterious images and metaphors all kinds of things that spark endless theories and debates, which often turn into feuds, which separate people into various opposing camps. Reading today’s chapter I can understand how the Jewish scholars in Jesus’ day were looking for a Messiah to show up on the scene, wipe out the evil Romans, and usher them into global power. It’s what Zac seems to be describing in today’s chapter. However, the Messiah described in the previous chapters is gentle, riding on a donkey, suffering betrayal and death.
What a mysterious contradiction.
This morning in the quiet I’m mulling over some basic beliefs and world views about where our world is headed. Some contend that humanity is essentially good and, despite our penchant for focusing on all that is bad and negative, our world and humanity is slowly getting better and better and moving in designed progression towards the joy, peace, goodness and life described in the final chapter of Revelation among other visions of utopia. Others believe that humanity is essentially flawed and things are only going to get worse and worse until in the final depth of darkness and doom God will show up and save the day. I find it fascinating to observe that friends who occupy both schools of thought are given to doomsday thinking and dire doomsday proclamations depending on the circumstances they see around themselves and their belief (though not knowledge) of where it is leading.
As I make my way through this life journey I find myself increasingly and humbly relinquishing any sense of surety with regard to prophetic versions of the end times. I think of one Christian scholar who was confronted with an either-or question about the Book of Revelation regarding three major theories of the return of Christ. He was asked whether he believed in the pre-tribulation rapture, mid-tribulation rapture, or post-tribulation rapture. Realizing that the question was intended to pigeon-hole him for the questioner’s judgement, the scholar refused to be trapped into the either-or debate and responded, “I’m a pan-tribulationist. I believe it’s all going to pan out in the end.”
I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or in that murky, vague period we see in the future and have dubbed the “end times.” I’m not sure even my speculation profits me or anyone else very much. I do know that we live in an intricately ordered system that is perpetually converting things from one type of energy to another type of energy to perpetuate life. I know that the Bible describes a beginning, tells stories filled with beginnings and endings that lead to new beginnings, and then ends with mysterious visions of a large-scale ending and new beginning. I believe that Jesus was God incarnate who, interestingly enough, came to suffer, die, and then rose from the dead to usher in a whole new beginning of things. I see in Jesus’ teaching and resurrection the exact same paradigm revealed in creation, in today’s chapter, and in the Great Story as a whole. I believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” just as He claimed to be, and that’s why I follow.
And so, I will continue to follow Jesus and grow my faith. I will cultivate in my life and relationships the love, grace, and forgiveness that Jesus exemplified and to which He call me. I trust that this earthly journey will lead me to a time of natural harvest from my earthly body and existence. My body will be converted to different kind of energy for the time-being and my spirit (which science can’t produce, quantify, examine, or reproduce) will then be ushered into new beginnings of an eternal nature just as Jesus described. What will that all look like exactly?
I’d be happy to chat with you over coffee or a pint. We can talk about what the Bible says and what scholars and artists have speculated over time. We can talk about people who have seen things in near-death experiences. I’ll be happy to share with you what I’ve come to believe in my studying and reading and contemplation.
Just know that at the end of our conversation, after I have told you what I think about prophecies and end times and heaven and resurrected bodies and eternity, I will shrug my shoulders and tell you, “It will all pan out in the end…right before the next beginning.”
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:
- Doomsday will eventually happen. Don’t kid yourself.
- No one has inside information when it will be. Not even Jesus Himself. Period.
- 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 Jeremiah 49
“Ah, Edom, I’m dropping you to last place among nations,
the bottom of the heap, kicked around.
You think you’re so great—
strutting across the stage of history,
Living high in the impregnable rocks,
acting like king of the mountain.
You think you’re above it all, don’t you,
like an eagle in its aerie?
Well, you’re headed for a fall.
I’ll bring you crashing to the ground.” God’s Decree. Jeremiah 49:15-16 (MSG)
I, along with the rest of the world, watched with fascination over the weekend as Japan struggled with the aftermath of the strongest earthquake recorded in that country and the subsequent tsunami. I thought back to my post from Jeremiah 47. I guess I could add another bullet point to my list of doomsday predictions.
The events of the previous few days came to mind as I read this morning’s chapter. There’s a big difference between healthy skepticism when people are quick to proclaim “the end of the world” and blind arrogance about our own personal safety and well-being.
In Jeremiah’s day, the people of Edom lived in caves in tall cliffs. It was almost impossible for armies to successfully lay seige to the area. The people of Edom, therefore, felt a strong sense of security. “No one can touch us up here in our caves,” they said to themselves. Thus, Jeremiah’s prophesy reminded them that they should watch it with the big head. And, so should we. We may never live to the end of the world, but it quite possible that we’ll see the end of many things as we’ve known them.
I try not too worry too much about tomorrow. Today has plenty of worries of its own. Still, reading Jeremiah’s words and watching the news feed out of Japan remind me not to put too much security in the things of this world. A tsunami of events might just wash them all away on a moments notice.
Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 47
“Oh, Sword of God,
how long will you keep this up?
Return to your scabbard.
Haven’t you had enough? Can’t you call it quits?”
Jeremiah 47:6 (MSG)
Doomsday is a funny thing. With all of the upheaval in the world, it’s been getting a lot of press again lately.
Oh Doomsday, how we love thee. Let me count the ways:
- My first brush with doomsday was a guy by the name of Hal Lindsey who wrote all sorts of books about the end of the world happening in the early 1980’s.
- I also soon learned during my childhood about the “doomsday clock” that shows us how close we are to atomic annihilation. To this day I read about it from time to time. If you want to synchronize your watch, it’s currently six minutes to midnight.
- In the early 80’s there was another guy who bought up ads in all the major newspapers in the world predicting the end of the world on a certain day at a certain hour. Man, was that a waste of advertising dollars.
- I was a senior in high school in 1984. The whole George Orwell buzz got a lot of press.
- I had a Bible prof who went to great lengths to prove that the Soviet Union was the evil empire Gog and Magog from Biblical prophecy who was going to invade Israel. About the time the Berlin Wall came down, I chuckled as I pictured him having to rewrite all of his exhaustive booklets, pamphlets and lecture notes.
- In 1987 there was a “harmonic convergence” in which planets aligned. Lots of people gathered at “power centers” waiting for a major “energy shift.”
- Then there was a rash of world events in the late 80’s and early 90’s that had everyone buzzing. The fall of communism, Tianamen Square, the Challenger disaster, the San Francisco earthquake, and the baseball strike.
- Of course, can we forget Y2K and the global doomsday that was about to befall us when the world’s computers couldn’t change their date to a new century? A few fortunate people still had atomic bomb shelters from the 1950’s to stockpile with supplies.
- There’s a lot of buzz about the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 and the end of the world. I’m not too worried about it. My Norman Rockwell Calendar from Van Wyk State Farm ended on January 31st, 2010. The sun dawned on 2011 just fine.
- Wendy read me an article from the Wall Street Journal this past week about a million dead sardines washing up on shore in southern California. Some are seeing it as a sign of doomsday, but the only sign I see in it is that a shortage of sardines means the price of my Ceasar Salad dressing is likely to go up.
As I look back over my journey, I’ve learned to take prophetic doomsday predictions with a large grain of salt. Do I believe that world events are moving towards an eventual climax of events prophetically outlined in scripture? Yes, I do. Can worrying about the timing of these events add value or quality to my life? No.
I’m not worried about doomsday. I’m just worried about following God’s path for me, loving my wife and kids well, working hard, giving generously, and living full. As the old Keith Green song said, God can take care of the rest.
They pour into the streets wearing black, go up on the roofs, take to the town square, Everyone in tears, everyone in grief. Isaiah 15:3 (MSG)
I sat on the dock at the lake with both my parents and my teenage children. It was one of those quiet conversations that don't usually happen in the busy rat-race of everyday life, but in the peaceful tranquility of the lake, they just sort of emerge. I asked my parents about some of the things they'd seen and experienced in their lifetime. They talked about the nation-wide celebration when World War II was over when people poured out of their houses to have an impromptu party in the streets. They talked of the day President Kennedy was assassinated and the shock and horror the nation experienced.
I thought of my own journey. I remembered where I was when President Reagan was shot, when the Challenger exploded, then Columbia. I remembered the day when the twin towers fell.
The depth of human tragedy in Isaiah's prophetic messages are easily lost when we don't make connection to our own experience. For the nations he addresses, the threat of impending seiges waged by invading armies was very real. His message was, and is, sobering. While I don't believe there is much to be gained in preoccupation with tomorrow's potential doomsday, I believe there is wisdom in understanding that the blessing I enjoy today is not guaranteed tomorrow.
Today, I'm taking time to be grateful for all with which I am blessed, and to realize that it could all be tragically gone in the twinkling of an eye. I don't want to take God's blessing and provision for granted.
Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 14
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