Every time I hear a sermon about End Times stuff, or eschatology in the very limited sense that you’ll usually find in popular culture like the Left Behind series, I let out a giant mind sigh. I am not objecting to the subject in its entirety, but I am arguing whether there’s a better way to do it than some strange combination of big numbers, “facts”, a super inconsistent and confusing criteria of Biblical interpretation, a lack of historical context, and a willingness to get the conclusion before you find your way there.
I’ll cover the first one: large numbers do not impress me. Having “more earthquakes” this century than the past century has more to do with our advancement in both definitions of said phenomena and the technological tools we can now employ to detect microquakes geologist couldn’t dream of identifying or even recognizing. Having “plagues” that kill more people in today’s world means there’s literally more people – the Black Plague wiped out a third of Europe’s population when said world population was much smaller, making it far more cataclysmic. Proportionally, far less people die from far more contagious diseases thanks to medical technology. Having a higher population also means more conflict by default, so there’s your answer for “more wars”.
Also, who says Jesus wasn’t talking about His own historical context at the time? It would certainly make sense to His audience in Scripture, and it would easily explain the Jewish revolutions that occurred in the following years (which would, in fact, fulfill all the criteria given therein). Why must the one explanation and use always supersede the other one? How do we determine which Scripture speak about contemporary times and which one does not? I never get a clear sense for this, and I doubt most people know either.
Furthermore, why would ANY of this lend credence to a specific kind of End Times prophetic tradition? Big numbers mean nothing, and nor do these constitute “proof” that a Biblical prophecy will happen. In fact, prophecy as a concept exists in a pre-Enlightenment, pre-logical/rational society that would have little need for empirical evidence or the need to “prove” God is working. Asking for signs and wonders like a Pharisee (as Jesus denounces right in the Bible) does not seem a good use of anyone’s time. Using science to bring validity to Biblical prophecy, however defined, reeks of desperation at best and false conflation at worst.
So here’s the big question: which verse gets considered in its own historical context, and which ones do not? Why do we get to use Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones as a vague reference to the Rapture, but we leave most of the book’s content in the past? Why some, and not others? I am always curious about this, simply because the references that accord most closely always win out, but the rest of the book ends up ignored. You see, these books represent a clear message to past events, and mentioning the Babylonian and Assyrian invasions and exiles would make this incredibly complicated. So do these refers to Jesus and the original intent simultaneously? You never get a clear answer with these sorts of discussions. I guess we appeal to earlier Biblical tradition (i.e., Christian use of the Bible itself), but it’s not like dispensationlism, Biblicism, and End Times talk emerged until the 18th century or so.
This is what I think: I believe that, often, any talk of End Times accepts the predetermined conclusion – i.e., we’re living in the End of Days, and we know it based on this, that, and so forth. They then assemble evidence based on that feeling to convince normal people like you and me that this is actually the case. Unfortunately, they just throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks, rather than methodocially thinking about how they would actually go about this process. It’s haphazard and shameful.
Now, I don’t mind if you believe this, of course. You have every right to believe we live in the last days if you think this the case (as for me, I am fairly ambiguous on whether or not that’s true for many, many reason). The bigger issue is: does this belief help you to live more like Christ? Does it consist purely of unwarranted fear-mongering? Does it merely present a simple solution and general principle to the seriously complex issues of world geopolitics and events? Does it somehow make you feel more important that you live in an important age in world history? These questions and thoughts deserve serious, rigorous examination; if it isn’t useful, than what use do we have for making End Times discussion such an essential part of our faith?
We might ask, also, whether a church authority of any kind should lay a dictate on something so controversial. If the crux of your message is not to worry, then stop giving us tons of reason TO worry. They always lead in with the end times stuff, because that’s exciting and fascinating, before getting into the “don’t worry about it” part, which I guess is boring and not as interesting. People love sensationalism, and by giving it to them, you just engender in your audience a sense that the Bible should fit our earthly notions of “excitement” to hold any true weight. I’m sure they don’t intend this, but that’s the way I see it come across all the time.
Perhaps they just forget the simpler passages? I can’t believe I’ve never heard Matthew 10 in reference to this:
26 “Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in [x]hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a [y]cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
I guess we can get caught up in the “cool” parts and forget the real truths, huh?