So where are we at with the end of the world? After all, didn’t the Mayans predict the world would end this year? And I remember hearing of several other more recent predictions of the end of time (12/12/12, anyone?). But it turns out the whole thing is an urban myth. The Mayans never predicted that the world would end in 2012, they only created a calendar that ended in 2012 – however their assumption was that a new cycle of time would begin when that calendar ended. It’s a little like someone from the future uncovering my office in an archaeological dig, finding my Chuck Norris calendar, and upon turning the December page and finding nothing after it, speculating that I thought that would be the end of time – rather than simply assuming that I need to buy a new calendar for 2013. As it turns out, archaeologists have also found Mayan calendars that go way beyond 2012.
Yesterday I recorded an interview with my old high school friend, professor Anthony Gill, for his Research on Religion podcast. It will go up on their website on August 20th, but you can subscribe to the podcast at www.researchonreligion.org. I’ll make sure to post the link when it goes live. Professor Gill was asking me about the end of the world, the Book of Revelation and my book, The Wedding of the Lamb: A Historical Approach to the Book of Revelation. One of the questions he asked was why there’s so much hype about the end of the world. That got me thinking… sometimes it seems like some people can’t wait for the world to end.
I think that, to a certain extent, the obsession with the end of the world is a form of escapism – a way to focus on something other than the responsibilities of the present. Historically, some Christians have even used an emphasis on the afterlife to avoid helping the needy or confronting injustice, or worse, to tell the oppressed that they should stop complaining about oppression. Now I believe in eternal life and the Kingdom of Heaven as much as anyone, but I’ll be straight with you. I don’t want the world to end just yet, because I’m having too much fun. There are people I love and food I love to eat, and I haven’t yet had my fill of it all. Maybe I’m not spiritual enough, but it seems to me that this world was created good by a good God, and it’s a gift to us, not a curse. Like Peter Tosh once sang, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
Anyway, I wrote The Wedding of the Lamb to point out that the Book of Revelation is not a book of pie-in-the-sky escapism. In fact, most of the Book of Revelation is describing events that are not in our future, but are in our past. Events like the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE (already in the past when the book was written), and the fall of Rome (predicted in the author’s future, but fulfilled in our past).
Therefore, as it turns out, the Book of Revelation is not a doomsday prophecy. It is, however, entirely consistent with the preaching of Jesus – it is a message of good news. The good news is that those who follow Christ in life, and in death, will also follow him in resurrection and in eternal life. In its original historical context, the Revelation contained a message of encouragement for a persecuted church. And this is exactly where the message of Revelation is still relevant for us today. In a time when being a Christian is becoming increasingly counter-cultural, the message is: keep the faith, no matter what comes your way, and don’t give up.