Welcome to 2012! You probably know that the Mayan calendar ends this year (depending on how you look at it). And you may also be aware that doomsday predictions have been escalating, to the point where there is no shortage of speculations about this year being… shall we say… significant, to say the least. But really, if the world were going to end this year, I would know it, because my financial advisor would be telling me to stop putting money in my IRA. Financial advisors are like prophets, right? (Please note the heavy sarcasm and irony here…)
For us Christians, there is general agreement that there is some connection between the end of the world, and the end of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. But does the Book of Revelation really predict the end of the world?
Actually, it predicts (or it’s more accurate to say it describes) the end of several worlds. First of all, the author of the Book of Revelation (we’ll call him John) looks back on the fall of Jerusalem. In the year 70 CE (25 years before Revelation was written), the Romans laid siege to the city of Jerusalem, and eventually sacked the city and destroyed its temple. If you’ll allow the analogy, this was their September 11th. It was an earth-shattering event that no one ever thought could happen, and it was the end of the world as they knew it.
Second, the vision of John predicts the end of another world – the end of the Roman Empire. That prophecy turned out to be correct. The Roman Empire fell (I’m talking about the western empire, in the 5th century), and that was also the end of the world as everyone thought they knew it. Along with that was the end of pagan domination of the empire, and the rise of the Church, which (regardless of whether you think it was a good idea), was a whole new world.
Finally, the Book of Revelation does promise an end to all of those human institutions that try to suppress faith and goodness, and it does promise that good will win over evil in the end, and the Kingdom of God will be revealed like a shining city (the new, improved, and unconquerable Jerusalem) coming down out of heaven. That’s still in our future, and I’m sure it will be the end of the world as we know it. The reboot of humanity, if you will.
Will that happen this year? Well, I know I’m supposed to live like it could happen at any moment (cf. the “thief in the night” passages, Matthew 24:43 and I Thessalonians 5:2), but I have to admit that I do not think the world will end this year. I base that conclusion on the conviction that the Church (as the Body of Christ in the world) still has too much work to do (see Matthew 24:14). To be honest, I’m not even sure we’re in the fourth quarter. I know that may sound like heresy to some people, but it’s not like God doesn’t know what I’m thinking, so what difference does it make if I write it? On the other hand, we do seem to be coming full circle to a post-Christian version of the pre-Christian world…
The problem has always been that if we focus too much on the world to come, we allow ourselves to ignore all the work to be done in this world. On the other hand, if we focus too much on this world, it becomes easy to pretend that whatever we can get away with in life, is ultimately good enough. Once again I have to go with the middle way here – ignoring neither the world we live in nor the world we hope for.
The truth is, the stuff in the book of Revelation that relates to predicted events in our future is actually a small minority of the content of the book. Most of Revelation relates to things in our past, especially regarding the persecution of Christians in the early Church. My interpretation of the book of Revelation is covered in my book, The Wedding of the Lamb: A Historical Approach to the Book of Revelation. The website is www.WeddingOfTheLamb.com. If you want to know more about the symbolism in the book of Revelation, and the historical situation of the author and original audience of Revelation, check it out. In fact, you should probably hurry up and read it, just in case I’m wrong about this year. I’m going to be sharing more thoughts on this subject throughout 2012. As always, I invite comments.
Happy New Year!