April 14, 2005


Revelation relevancy: A fascination with end-times theology manifests in apocalyptic thrillers and a TV miniseries (Colleen O'Connor, April 14, 2005, THE DENVER POST)

"Left Behind" theology is compiled from different parts of the Bible – including Thessalonians and Daniel – which is interwoven with the Book of Revelation.

Called dispensationalist theology, it was created by two 19th-century ministers, scholars say. By the early 20th century, it had spread rapidly across America after being published in the best-selling 1909 "Scofield Reference Bible."

Jenkins and LaHaye call this theology Bible-based and scriptural. Critics have called it distorted, even heretical.

Bible scholars explain that when it comes to Revelation, Christianity falls into three camps.

Many mainstream Christians are amillennialists, who believe that Christ comes at the end of history, and that Revelation should be read as symbolism.

Similarly, post-millennialists – like legendary American preacher John Edwards – believe that Christ comes at the end of history, when God's kingdom purposes have been realized fully and churches have changed unjust conditions in society.

Pre-millennialists believe that Christ will return before the end of history, to inaugurate an earthly kingdom of a thousand years, and that the world will steadily worsen until the Rapture.

"The pre-millennialist movement that is the 'Left Behind' series has been around a long time, but it's been relatively recent in claiming a large number of devotees," says Bill Leonard. He's a professor of church history at Wake Forest University Divinity School in North Carolina and a Baptist.

In America, he says, particularly since the 19th century, the idea has been used "as an evangelical device for encouraging conversion. 'Jesus may come back at any minute, so you better hurry.' "

And for Jenkins, this message is crucial. "I'm not stupid," he says. "I realize I believe a message that can be offensive. I believe Jesus is the way to go, and that this can be offensive to people of other faiths.But I think we need to share what we believe."

Today, 55 percent of Americans believe that the faithful will be taken up to heaven in the Rapture, according to a Newsweek poll in 2004.

In the poll, 36 percent believe the Book of Revelation contains "true prophecy," while 47 percent believe it's metaphorical.

Groups like the End-Time Handmaidens and Servants offer a prayer and fasting ministry, along with tours to Israel, "the living fulfillment of biblical prophecy."

People such as ordained minister Karen Heimbuch, who memorized the Book of Revelation, took her show on tour – then released her performance, "The Revelation," on a CD produced by Revelation Media.

Countless end-times Web sites include RaptureReady.com, which even has a Rapture index, billed as the "Dow Jones Industrial Average of End Time Activity."

Apocalyptic beliefs are sweeping America, experts say, in part because Catholic and mainline Protestant churches – which believe that Revelation is to be read symbolically – neither preach nor talk about it.

Into this vacuum comes "Left Behind." People read the best sellers, then tune into end-times discussions on cable television and talk radio.

"They're told this is what the Bible says, and they've never heard anything else," says Amy Johnson Frykholm, who teaches cultural studies and religion at Colorado Mountain College and is the author of "Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America".

The spread of Rapture culture alarms culture watchers such as Bill Moyers, who lambasted the trend in a recent cover story called "Welcome to Doomsday" for The New York Review of Books.

"There's great danger in this obsession with Armageddon and the apocalypse, because it distracts us from the tasks at hand," he says. "In my judgment, it's heresy."

He is particularly concerned about the effects of Rapture culture on public policy. "Why care about the Earth when the droughts, floods, famine and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the apocalypse foretold in the Bible?" he writes.

"Why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the Rapture?"

Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, says that the Rapture fixation promotes "escapism in the body of Christ."

"Some Christians are not as politically involved as they should be," he says. "They think everything's just going to get worse and worse, so they shun responsibility to help us have a good government. Or they don't get a good education and contribute to the work force as they should, because they think Christ is returning.

"A huge problem is a lack of willingness to be involved with environmental concerns, because if Jesus returns tomorrow, it doesn't matter if we destroy the Earth."

If you're a decent human being, never mind a Christian, it seems incumbent to strive as if the Universe were post-millennialist, even if it is pre-millennialist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 14, 2005 12:00 AM

For those awaiting the rapture, I'm afraid that they are about 1,935 years too late. From an on-line essay:

Unless you've been living on a remote island or the high Tibetan plateau for the last eight years, you've probably heard about or even read the literary phenomenon known as the Left Behind series. The series ended this year with the 12th book Glorious Appearing in which Jesus returns at the battle of Armageddon and opens a 2,000 year old can of whupp-ass. He must be tired of that "love your enemies" shtick, because he literally eviscerates his opponents with His spoken word and casts all the bad people "howling and screeching" into eternal torment in the Lake of Fire (needless to say, this includes everyone who is not a born again Christian). As NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote last July, "If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series, we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hatemongering".

Now along comes a conservative theologian to claim that the whole concept is un-biblical bunk. Barbara R. Rossing, an associate professor of New Testament studies at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago has this to say: Today's Christian fixation on Armageddon and war is a sickness even while it may be thrilling and entertaining.

In her new book "The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation" she explains why this focus on the End Times is the result of a misinterpretation:

The Rapture theory itself is quite new, she argues one reason to be suspicious. It was largely invented around 1830 by a British evangelical named John Nelson Darby. One key proof-text, then as now, is Daniel 9:24-27, which speaks of "seventy weeks of years" between the time "the word went out to restore and build Jerusalem" and the second coming. Theologians disagree on when the clock should start for the countdown of those 490 years (70 times seven). After the 69th week, however, Daniel says a "prince" will come who "shall destroy the city and its sanctuary" through war and flood. Rossing and other mainline biblical scholars believe this last is a historical reference to an emperor named Antiochus, who desecrated Jerusalem's main temple in 168 BC by erecting a statue of Zeus.... Rossing calls the purported 2,000-year clock stoppage unmentioned in Daniel a "complete fabrication."

The success of the Left Behind series has provoked a backlash in literary circles as well with the publication of the first of a new series, The Last Disciple by Christian radio-show host Hans Hanegraaff, which presents the traditional (pre-Darby) Preterist view of the Book of Revelation. Preterist interpretations generally identify Jerusalem as the persecutor of the Church, "Babylon," the "Mother of Harlots," etc. They see Armageddon as God's judgment on the Jews (the destruction of the Temple in AD 70) carried out by the Roman army, which is identified with "the beast." The Antichrist himself is none other than the Emperor Nero, first Roman persecutor of Christians (whose numerical sum of the letters of his title and name add up to exactly 666). As for the words used by Jesus to win the battle of Armageddon, the Preterists had a gentler interpretation. The Word is simply the Gospel, against which the might of Rome was powerless. Revelations, in this view, uses symbolic language accessible to believers but opaque to Roman authorities who might try to read it. It is also the only view consistent with Jesus' Olivet discourse that "this generation" would see all things things fulfilled (you didn't need to be the Messiah or even a prophet to know that Judea was a powder keg about to explode, and to know that the Romans would crush any attempted revolt).

So who to believe? To Christians wondering which Biblical reading to believe, Rossing says: "I would just appeal to their experience of God in their lives. Is he a God who wants to destroy the world or who wants to redeem it and who gives us a vision of hope?"

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 14, 2005 11:35 AM

No one knows the day or the hour. If they say they do, they are lying. Fuggedaboutid

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 14, 2005 12:09 PM

"from an on-line essay"

That's nice. If you are going to quote an authority at length, at least tell us who the authority is, and where you found it.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 14, 2005 12:25 PM

If you were him would you come back?

"Sure...when I can play the piano again!"

Tasteless, I admit, but that and "Well, then get a ladder and a pair of pliers and get my @#$ down off of here!" are my favorite Sam Kinison quotes.

Posted by: joe shropshire at April 14, 2005 2:11 PM

the most amusing thing about the pre-millenial view is that Jesus has to come back not once, but twice.

Posted by: Judd at April 14, 2005 9:06 PM

*throws up hands* there is so much WRONG with preterism that I can talk about that words fail me. I'll try to hit one big point.

The mental equipment of Leftist liberalism is fundamentally different from current Conservatism, but is remarkably uniform among liberals, communists, and statists of all stripes. What confuses people is that liberals APPEAR to apply that equipment in so many bewildering and variety of ways that one thinks there IS no underlying connection. The variety does NOT arise from the variety of liberal thinkers, but from the variety of the environments which they contaminate.

For instance, The denial that the Book of Revelation is inspired by God, and thus is predictive, springs from the same mindset that claims that there is no God. The Book of Revelation is "inspirational" (thus Prof. Rossing's title of it being a book of hope), but not "inspired." Being inspriational means we can pick and choose what lessons we need from it, while being able to turn away from those that displease us. Not much different from the a-la-carte morality espoused by Liberals.

The book of Revelation is held to be Symbolic. The outcome, of course, is that it is denied that it should be taken literally. Not much different from the liberal idea that the Constitution is a living document that should not be read literally. If a text cannot be taken literally, then there are many potential interpretations that are symbolic, and the bewildering variety of opinion is advanced as the reason why only "experts" should interpret the text, and that the rest of us should just swallow what's given to us and not bother to think for ourselves. Thus, the appearance of Jesus Christ in Chapter 19 is somehow NOT the second coming. Why? Because it comes before Chapter 20, which talks about the Millenium. Pre-millenial Coming of Jesus Christ! NAIVE! NON-SYMBOLIC! SIMPLISTIC! You must obviously ALSO be deluded into simplistically reading that the Second Amendment applies to CITIZENS and not STATE MILITIAS.

Note the production of the "few" "iconbclastic" "penetrating" "dissenters" who just happen to be "conservative" and thus whose opinions (which, not coincidentally, happen to accord with liberal thinking) MUST ABSOLUTELY be adopted by the knuckle draggers. The fact that there are MORE REAL conservatives that adhere to true conservative thought than that toe the liberal line is dismissed. Not much different from the way the two or three Swift Boat Vets that supported Kerry somehow magically outweighed, in liberal scales, the 30 fold more who opposed him.

And take this: "Rossing says: "I would just appeal to their experience of God in their lives. Is he a God who wants to destroy the world or who wants to redeem it and who gives us a vision of hope?"". Revelation is a book of PUNISHMENT by god in response to evil. We know exactly what political liberals think of accountability and punishment.

I'm not surprised that the liberal slant, er preterist, take on Revelation involves "replacement theology": the concept that the Church somehow replaced the Jews (Jive THAT with Rossing's concept of a God who wants to redeeem people.) Unfortunately, if replacement theology is wrong, then the Jews are still God's special people, which means that anti-semites are in deep doo-doo. "Can't have THAT!" the liberals cry, "NOBODY is special! There CANNOT possibly be a relationship between European Antisemitism and the decline of Europe, much less one between America's support of Israel, and the American Hegemon!"

I'm taking too much space, but you get the idea. More at my website.

Posted by: Ptah at April 14, 2005 9:18 PM

One of the more interesting quirks with eschatology is that people automatically assume that those being 'taken' are the saints, while those 'left behind' are the damned.

But when Jesus says that things will be like Noah's day, it makes one wonder - who was 'taken' then, the good or the bad? It might be better to be left behind after all.

Also makes me think of the solid people in Heaven (from "The Great Divorce"), while the visitors were vaporous.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 14, 2005 9:59 PM

Rav said that all the calculated dates of redemption have passed, and the matter now depends upon repentance and good deeds.
--- Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97B

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi met Elijah who was standing at the the door of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai's tomb, and asked the Prophet: "Will I have a place in the world to come?"
Elijah said: "If the Lord is willing"
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi then asked Elijah: "When will the Messiah come?"
Elijah said to the Rabbi: "Go, ask him yourself!"
b' Levi asked: "And where does he sit?"
Elijah replied: "At the gate of the City [of Rome]."
b' Levi asked: "And what sign will reveal him to me?"
Elijah replied: "He sits among the sick, poor and wounded and all of them loosen and bind their bandages together. But he loosens one and rebinds it, saying: 'If I am wanted, I will not be delayed'"
So Rabbi Joshua journeyed to the city gate, found the Messiah and said to him: "Peace be upon you, my Teacher and Master"
The Messiah said to him: "Peace be upon you, son of Levi!"
Joshua said to the Messiah: "When will you come, my Master and Teacher?"
The Messiah said: "Today!"
Rabbi Joshua then returned to Elijah who asked him: "What did the Messiah say to you?"
Rabbi Joshua said to Elijah: "(the Messiah said) 'Peace be upon you, son of Levi'"
Elijah said: "He promised you and your father a place in the world to come'
Rabbi Joshua said to Elijah: But the Messiah told me a lie! For he said he would come today but he did not come!"
Elijah said to Rabbi Joshua: "He told you thus: 'Today, if you will hear his voice'" (Ps 95:7)

---Sanhedrin 98a

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 14, 2005 10:23 PM

The denial that the Book of Revelation is inspired by God, and thus is predictive, springs from the same mindset that claims that there is no God.

That would come as something of a shock to the Catholic church (whose view of Revelations is preterist yet has always considered it to be inspired by God), and any other Christian before 1830. last time I checked the RCC was anything but a bunch of evil Liberals.

As for Revelations being descriptive try the following:

Very few witnessed Nero's death (a slave helped him to stab himself Nero lacked the courage to do it himself while hiding in a latrine). In the confusion of the subsequent civil war (the "Year of Three Emperors") a rumor spread that Nero was not dead but in hiding out and biding his time for a return to power. The author of Revelations incorporated this into his description of the Beast:

7 Then the angel said to me: "Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. 8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come. 9 "This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while.(*) 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

1. Augustus 31 bc to 14 ad
2. Tiberias 14 to 37
3. Caligula 37 to 41
4. Claudius 41 to 54
5. Nero 54 to 68

(The Year of the Three Emperors 69)

6. Vespasian 69 to 79
7. Titus 79 to 81 ("a little while")
8. Domitian 81 96 (during whose reign Revelations was probably written, and who like Nero ferociously persecuted Christians. The Author of Revelations therefore conflates him with Nero)

AFAIK,neither the "Late Great Planet Earth" or "Left Behind" ever tried to explain this sequence of 8 kings.

Then ther is the Olivet Discourse and Jesus promise that all that he described would happen to the current generation. Unless the preterist interpretation is true, we have what CS Lewis called the most embarrassing passage in the Bible.

Posted by: daniel duffy at April 15, 2005 8:47 AM