False Religion, True Religion series
I remember at age 6 watching my first horror movie, standing up and pointing at the screen and telling the character not to go in there. What’s as fun and as frightening as a horror story we all want to watch, shaking in our chairs while we eat popcorn?
Answer: End times prophecy. Wringing our hands, shivering, and crying, “We’re all going to die!”
According to some we’re all going to be trotted off to the fire and roast forever. It may be because we didn’t utter the right phrases when we asked God to forgive us for things we did wrong. Could be because we died shortly after committing a sin and hadn’t yet asked forgiveness. Cower maggot – did you take God’s name in vain and die?
Our immortal souls apparently aren’t worth much in this theological view of things. God created his children so he could treat them like writers’ first drafts – wad them up and throw them in the fire. Such love. If I treated my children this way God would put me in Davy Jones’ locker. Perspective helps. Something doesn’t pass the smell test in this interpretation.
When will it all end?
When is it going to happen? The list of missed dates is endless but speculation is fun. It could even be this year, 2022. Wouldn’t that be amazing! Hushed, conspiratorial voice, “Could it end with a nuclear war started by Russia?” It almost did once, but a brave Russian soldier, Stanislov Petrov, refused to push the button.
“By the year 2050, 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ definitely (23%) or probably (18%) will have returned to earth,” according to Pew Research. Is that the end?
Did Jesus actually give us a time?
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” — Matt. 24:34-35; Mark 13:30-31; Luke 21:32-33 (NASB)
Hmm, how long is a generation? He may have been referring to the Temple and lands of Judaism, which ended in 70 CE, or he could have been referring to those with him whose likely lifetimes would be around another 30 years. He could also have been referring to the Church, but he probably would have phrased this differently.
He also referred to the enduring power and surety of his words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”
End of the Age
In the 24th Chapter of Matthew Jesus refers to the End of the Age. It’s to be a horrible time. Did he mean all of this figuratively or literally, and who was he referring to who were going to endure this?
The End of the Age is not the end of the world. The clue is, it will happen to the elect. Who were the elect? The Jews. Under Paul, Christians also referred to themselves as the elect.
What did happen? The Romans got tired of Jewish Zealots causing trouble and killing them. “The Jews led a revolt and occupied Jerusalem in 66 CE initiating the first Roman-Jewish war. In 70 CE the Romans reclaimed Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple with only a portion of the western wall remaining ….” Destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Harvard Divinity School. They also destroyed most of Jerusalem.
“Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.” – Matthew 24: 15, 16 (NASB)
In around 40 CE the Roman emperor Caligula ordered the erection of a statue of him in the Jewish Temple. (The Abomination mentioned by Jesus as a sign.)
Jesus: “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” – Matthew 24: 21 (NASB)
The war in 66 CE resulted in the execution of 6,000 Jews in Jerusalem.
Then “In 132 CE, Bar Kokhba led a rebellion against Hadrian [Roman Emperor], a revolt connected with the renaming of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina. After four years of devastating warfare, the uprising was suppressed, and Jews were forbidden access to Jerusalem.” They were dispersed to the wind. Wikipedia.
Christians fared no better. They were persecuted by Rome until around 300 CE, often used to amuse the crowd as lion food in the Roman coliseum. The religion was finally adopted for Rome by Constantine, whose mother was a Christian.
Similarly in the book of Revelations, John cited the seven hills and this referred to the city of Rome. So Jesus was very literal in his description of what was going to happen to the Jews and then the Christians. It would be a horrible time, and it was.
After speaking about the End of the Age, Jesus continued, “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” – Matthew 24: 29, 30 (NASB)
In this statement Jesus speaks of “His elect,” which would be his followers. He very likely was talking not so much in literal terms but in more figurative language. Figurative language makes meaning by asking the reader or listener to understand something by virtue of its relation to some other thing, action, or image.
Jesus’ return was earth shaking in that Christianity “turned the world upside down.” The Church universal represents the body of Christ and spreads Jesus’ message of forgiveness around the world. People are reconciled to God. Wherever Christians are, Jesus is among them and showing the love of God.
How soon? Jesus said, ““Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things ….” – Matthew 24: 32, 33 (NASB)
Soon in the above passage is when the church is very young, just putting out its branches. This corresponds to the generation of the Apostles who started the churches: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”
Jesus warns that people who put off following the ways he showed us to live, do so at their own peril. “But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 24: 48-51 (NASB)
For many years after Jesus’ death the Apostles thought Jesus spoke literally of his physical return. He did appear to them after his death. They sometimes told people that they shouldn’t marry because Jesus might be coming. Their expectation was that he would come in physical form soon. Even they didn’t fully understand this and many other things. But they didn’t have the advantage of seeing history play out over the next 250 years when the things Jesus mentioned came true.
The passages in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are nearly identical and were likely sayings that were written down and then copied. The Apostle John is believed to have lived to around 95 CE. To write his Gospel, Polycarp, who knew John and other Apostles, said he called them together and they put down their recollections of Jesus. The Gospel of John makes no mention of the End of Days. Had it been important to Christians he likely would have mentioned it.
Distinction between true religion and false religion
The focus on apocalyptic literature isn’t the focus Jesus gave to his followers. In a previous article we saw that John called out churches who focused on sin and punishment as having lost their first love: Jesus’ message and way of life. The message of Jesus changes lives. The message of apocalyptic, as presented by many, is a message of hopelessness and eternal punishment.
Jesus also said in Matthew 16:4 that those who look for signs are evil and adulterous. Adulterous is usually figuratively used in the Bible to mean those who have abandoned God to follow other pursuits or beliefs.
This raises the question, why do people feel they should substitute the message of forgiveness and better life in Christ, for a message of sin, gloom, and eternal damnation. This negative message isn’t something people respond positively to. It drives people away. This is clearly false religion and inconsistent with the way Jesus worked with people who were considered living in error.
Take Home points
The interpretation of End Times that some derive from the Bible are actually about things that were current, meant to happen in the near future, or may be used as warnings for types of people to watch out for.
Looking for signs in current events is the wrong perspective on Jesus’ message, and is adulterous. The signs of the times that Jesus sometimes referred to are specific things that he spoke about for his Apostles to watch for.
Judging others isn’t the task of Christians. We’re specifically told not to judge. We don’t have God’s ability to appraise the situation on earth. In history there have been many worse times than the present. Just because people don’t like what is going on, that doesn’t mean people think about evil all day as in the days of Noah or Sodom.
Christians are asked to spread the Good News, not the Bad News. If Christians ever run out of opportunities to spread the Good News … well, they won’t.
Will there be an end of days? Maybe. No one knows, and certainly no one knows the date because it would depend on people’s behavior. The only evil I see regarding people thinking about evil all day is people who go around spreading the bad news when they see things they don’t like and feel like they are the judge of others’ behavior.
Stay positive. It works. It draws people to you.
My ebook, The Prophetic Pattern: Ancient and Modern Prophecy, explains in great detail what prophecy was about.
Our answer is God. God’s answer is us. Together we make the world better.
I will use some book references for this series, which I recommended reading:
- Tabernacle of Hate by Kerry Nobles – true story of a group that isolated for peaceful living but ended up in cults that advocated violence.
- C Street by Jeff Sharlet – a true cult that thought Jesus was wrong, and influences politicians around the world
- When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball (5 warning signs)
What Is Meant by Truth? (Worship in Spirit and in Truth)