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Mapping the End of Days
Eschatology is rather pointless when you think about it
I recently came across a rather lengthy piece from The New Yorker discussing Elon Musk. The crux of the piece is that he has this desire for power and recognition that drives everything he does. As the author of the piece explains it,
Musk isn’t peddling pabulum. His initiatives have real substance. But he also wants to be on the show—or, better yet, to be the show himself.
The tone and way the piece is put together, it reminded me of the way some groups of Christians talk about the Antichrist.
Think the “Left Behind” series of books and movies.
This Antichrist is well-liked, popular, and deceptive in his actions. He is bringing about world peace and, in the process, becoming the de facto ruler of the entire world. Even Christians are enamored by him and follow along as well. Or at least some of them do. They are false Christians, if they were even Christians at all, and, when the rapture happens, they are the ones left behind. That is when they realize they got it wrong. That is also when the Antichrist shows his true colors and ushers in a time of tribulation and mass destruction on the earth prior to a final battle when Jesus comes back and establishes his kingdom.
The manner in which Musk is portrayed in the piece mimics that language and implies that, due to his business acumen and contracts with the governments of the world, he is acting as a sort of shadow ruler.
When I was growing up, when someone like Elon Musk came around, there was no shortage of preachers and authors and “experts” who saw the signs in them and raised alarms that the Antichrist was here so the end was coming soon. Christians needed to get ready, which meant making certain they and those closest to them were really saved so that they could be sucked up in the rapture.
The Antichrist came in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes he was an individual and sometimes he was a government entity such as the U.N. So-called prophets have been attempting to pinpoint who the Antichrist is and when the end is coming since the beginning of the whole Christian thing. I would even argue that there was a time when this would have been perfectly understandable. Jesus himself said, before he ascended into heaven, that he was simply going to prepare a place for his followers, implying that he would be back and that it was not going to take long. So when John, an exiled follower of Jesus, sent a letter to a church, his writing that Jesus said he was coming “quickly” would not have been an odd statement.
But it has been over 2000 years, and maybe it is safe to say that either Jesus is not coming back “quickly” or that his definition of “quickly” is vastly different from our own. Here is the problem with that second line of reasoning, though. The people who hold that God is outside of time and so when God says “quickly”, they mean quickly for them, are the same people who believe that when the Bible says everything was created in six days it means six literal 24-hour days. In other words, they are being inconsistent at best with the way they handle their Scriptures.
Talk to the typical Evangelical about the End Times, and the chances are good that they are going to describe some form of what is known as Premillennialism. In a sentence, this is the idea that Jesus is going to rapture, or suck up, all the Christians on the earth before the tribulation begins and all the nonChristians are punished for their sin of not believing in Jesus before he comes back the second time to establish his kingdom (as a side note, it is interesting that so many individual Christians seem to hold to this understanding despite only about 1/3 of Evangelical pastors holding this view).
Given the 2000-year timeframe since Jesus left to get some milk, it seems like at some point we should have stopped and asked ourselves if staring out the window and waiting for his car to pull into the driveway was really the best way to be spending our time. It is not like Jesus left when no one was looking. And it is not like he neglected to leave a list of stuff for us to do in the meantime.
If you ask me, besides being an interesting philosophical pastime, it would appear Eschatology has become nothing more than a way to look busy without actually accomplishing anything. While it is true that Jesus told his followers to keep an eye out,
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. (Matthew 24)
He also said no one would know when the Lord would get there and, right before he left, he also gave his followers a set of pretty straightforward instructions.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:18-20)
Something I have observed, and spoken about on countless occasions, is that Christians go through a lot of trouble to avoid doing what Jesus said. I will give some benefit of the doubt because I think there are a lot of people in the church who are unaware that Jesus said some of the things he did. I could blame the pastors, but it is not exclusively their fault since everyone has access to a Bible and can read, or have read to them, Jesus’ teachings for themselves. But those who do know what he said often seem uninterested in putting those things into practice. In some circles, there is even outright hostility towards Jesus’ teachings, calling them “liberal talking points”.
Jesus said to be vigilant, and many Christians are acting exactly the opposite. And one of the ways Christians have found to stay busy is by wasting countless hours trying to figure out the sequence of events that will play out leading up to the rapture and second coming. It is an important part of the Christian tradition that Jesus is coming back, true, but it is not the one thing that holds the entire system together. Apocalypse was never the point.
We should never have made apocalypse the point.
When you get right down to it, in light of the ways we have exploited each other and our planet, neglected to lift up the lowest among us, excluded those most in need of including, and blatantly refused to love in the way Jesus loved, studying the End Times seems rather pointless.
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