Forgive me, Bloggerati for I have sinned. It has been ages since my last blog post. Its been for good reason though, as I’ve just launched “Unchurchable, the podcast.” This has been a dream of mine since around the time I started this blog, but writing was my passion and my comfort zone. However, the project is live and the first cab off the rank was the topic of the End Times Movement.
If you happened to catch the pod but missed the end times stuff in Evangelicalism, then here’s the scoop: the End Times Movement is a doctrine within Christianity that focuses on the book of Revelation as an apocalyptic prophesy. It covers things like the Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Four Horses of the Apocalypse the the Second Coming of Christ.
Its heavy stuff; so heavy in fact, that following the screening of a rapture movie at my kids church when I was about 8 or 9, I plunged headlong into a life of avoiding the book of Revelation and always wearing clean underwear lest the rapture hit and leave my laundry-day specials in a pile on the ground with the rest of my clothes.
With Covid-19/Coronavirus swirling its way around the globe, there seems to have been a predictable peak in End Times anxiety and that’s certainly not something I take lightly. In my own life, I’ve had to confront some of the fear that certain doctrines had left me with. It is my belief, a scriptural belief, that love casts out fear. That fear shouldn’t be the thing a faith is built upon.
So! Back to coronavirus/end times anxiety. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to dust off my writers hat and do some meaty, doctrinal stuff and if I can, I’d love to help put some end times anxiety to rest. So without further ado, there are a few key things that make up the end times doctrine, and when combined, we can see why they indicate that Coronavirus does not signal the end of the world.
1. The Book of Revelation as Apocalyptic Prophecy: The whole end times doctrine and movement hinges on the book of Revelation being written by the John the Apostle as a prophecy of the apocalypse. This also assumes Biblical literalism – ie. that every word written in the Bible is directly inspired by God and thus infallible. Now, there are some plot holes here, namely:
- Biblical literalism is only one way to read the Bible. Some people believe that the original Greek and Hebrew text was directly inspired by God, but that subsequent translations of the Bible have cost us some of that infallibility or even slipped other meanings into or out of the text. There are still others that read the Bible as prose – poetry and storytelling imbued with divine meaning but perhaps not historically accurate in a literal sense. I used to be a hardcore literalist, albeit one who was a bit uncomfortable with the book of Leviticus. These days I probably sit in the second group that believes we have lost meaning and context in thousands of years of rewrites. I also wonder whether gentile assumption of the Torah sits a little further towards cultural appropriation than a key tenet of Christian faith, but that’s another story for another day.
- The authorship of the book of Revelation by the apostle John has been questioned by Biblical scholars. One school of thought is that yes, it was the Apostle John. Another is that it was another guy by the same name. I haven’t waded too far into the evidence, but so far I’m sitting on the side that it probably was the John. But if you are bored during Coronavirus lockdown, you are certainly welcome to dive down that rabbit hole!
- There is yet another school of thought that the Book of Revelation may be apocalyptic fiction, or even commentary on times past (i.e. Israels poor treatment under the hand of the Roman Empire).
- I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine who is of Jewish heritage, and while he was strong in his belief that the Book of Revelation was prophetic and will come to pass, he also remarked that the Jewish understanding of time is slightly different to the gentile understanding of it. In his words, he explained time as like a double helix laid on its side. Instead of being a linear thing, it cycled coiled around bringing certain aspects of prophecy into existence but not all of them as yet. But, he said “In the final days there will be a complete fulfilment of all things.” It was certainly an interesting explanation to this little gentile who understands time as linear. Oh the philosophical arguments we could get into here.
The case in point is that, before you panic over coronavirus being an end times “wipe out 50-75% of the population” event, you really have to consider what the book of Revelation is. On one hand, it could be the infallible word of God delivered to the Apostle John to describe the end of the world. On the other hand, it could be apocalyptic fiction written by a disgruntled guy named John, talking about his beef with the Roman Empire. It could also be anywhere between.
And I’m not going to choose your answer for you. Have fun with that.
Every generation since John, whoever he was, has believed their generation was the last. And we have survived little apocalypses before. This is the second thing to note. I have fond memories of listening to the music of Keith Green, growing up. He was a 1970’s Christian music legend who was sadly taken before his time (in a plane crash that also claimed the lives of two of his kids). His music is littered with references to Jesus coming back again. There seemed to be this fever pitch around that time that society had gotten as bad as it could get and Jesus would have to come again soon.
But a similar thought was evidenced in writings much much earlier. The scripture says that no one can know the day or the hour that Jesus will return for his people. So quite simply, we can’t afford to panic every time there is an event that freaks us out. They have been happening for millennia. The very word “apocalypse” can mean a world ending event like the one described in Revelation, or it can mean “an event describing damage or destruction on a catastrophic scale.”
If we ascribe the latter meaning to the word, then even in my lifetime, there have been apocalyptic events: the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Rwandan Genocide, climate change, the Covid19 outbreak to name a few. The world is different after such events. We are reborn in a way. Perhaps, this is a little apocalypse, but it isn’t going to mean the end of the world. It is simply going to mean the beginning of a new one. Perhaps that is what the book of Revelation was eluding to.
The Rapture is a key part of the End Times Movement: The Rapture, or the moment when believers (in Jesus) are snatched away to meet Jesus in the air, is described in Thessalonians by the Apostle Paul, and eluded to in Revelation. Most evangelicals subscribe to the Pretribulationist view that all the Christians will disappear from the earth, suddenly and mysteriously, before the Great Tribulation occurs. This will then be followed by a seven year tribulation and then a thousand year Messianic Kingdom. Don’t freak out and think the Handmaids Tale is coming though. I’ll explain more on why later.
If you are a Christian, and you haven’t been raptured or borne witness to the sudden disappearance of most of your friends, then Covid19 isn’t likely to be the Great Tribulation. I would advise though, probably don’t go reading the “Left Behind” series right now. It might not be good for your anxiety. I do have to concede that there are two other schools of thought about the Rapture. Midtribulationists believe that the rapture will occur half way through the big Trib but before the worst of it, and Posttribulationists believe we will all disappear into the sky after it in an event that will coincide with the second coming of Christ. By and large, though, the most popular school of thought at the moment is pretribulationism.
Next up are the Four Horses of the Apocalypse. Revelation chapter 6 describes these four doomy-horses and their riders. The white rider is thought to symbolise pestilence. The red horse is thought to symbolise war. The black horse is thought to symbolise famine and the pale horse to symbolise death. Now, that’s pretty fearsome stuff. It has predictably caused many a Christian to look upon world events with a certain apocalyptic interpretation. And its hard not to. However, again we need to hark back to the arguments made above this point: we don’t know if Revelation is commentary or prophecy, and we haven’t been raptured yet anyway. So either way, there is no reason to panic over coronavirus. I mean apart from observing the obvious hand washing and social isolation procedures, obviously.
Arguably the most popular school of thought today is that The Great Tribulation is supposed to occur after the rapture if the book of Revelation is prophecy. Tribulation is mentioned by Jesus in Luke and by John in Revelation, but has been expounded upon by many end times theorists to include some pretty hectic, doomy conclusions. They include massive death tolls (up to three in four people, depending on who you are reading) and are tied up with those four fearsome horses mentioned above.
But here’s the scoop: there are actually four views of the Great Tribulation. Only one of them holds that the Great Tribulation will occur in the future. The four views are:
- Futurist – whereby the Great Tribulation is a relatively short, seven year period of trials and testings for Christians.
- Preterism – whereby the Tribulation actually refers to the past event where Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem and especially the temple. It affected the Jewish people and not all mankind. It is thought to have occurred in AD 70, and to be the reason why Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24:34 that “this generation shall not pass away.”
- Historicism – which holds that the Tribulation refers to a time of persecution of believers that may have begun when Papal Rome was in power (from the year 538 to the year 1798). Other thinkers in the Historicism camp see prophecy fulfilled down through the centuries rather than in one hit. Some see it beginning with the destruction of the temple and continuing through to the Holocaust.
- Idealism – which holds that the Great Tribulation actually refers to Satans fall from Heaven and will conclude when Christ defeats Satan at the second coming.
The Kit K Conclusion: Apocalyptic writings are scary. I have avoided them all my life. But having sat down and spent a bit of time in it of late, I’ve found my fears have dissipated rather than intensified. At this point in time, I believe that, even if the Book of Revelation isn’t fiction or commentary on things past, COVID 19 isn’t the Tribulation. It is a catastrophic event in the checkered history of mankind, no doubt. It is a low point. It is a time when humanity feels locked in and caged and that isn’t good for our collective mental health. But this too shall pass.
People who use this moment as a trumpet call to get people into their churches or tithes into their coffers (I’m looking at you, Kenneth Copeland) should be ignored or called out for putting the physical, mental and financial health of their people at risk.
But perhaps the most poignant truth during Covid involves where we put our attention. If you tune into something and expect it, it increases the likelihood that you will experience it. It’s true for when you are thinking of buying a car and suddenly start seeing it everywhere. It’s true for when you are trying to have a baby, and all you see is expectant mothers. I believe it is also true for things like hardship, persecution and warning signs of the apocalypse. If you tune into it, you will see it. It might have always been there. It may just be life. It may just be that you are noticing what has always been, but it is taking on different meaning for you in the moment. It doesn’t mean there are more signs. It just means we are drawn to the ones that have always been there.
I’m not saying that to be judgemental or to say they’re all in your head. Please hear me right: I’m not. All I’m saying is that when people constantly point to signs that the end is near or that the sky is falling, there can be confirmation bias that tunes us further and further into our own anxieties. Sadly, some of these anxieties have been programmed into us by traumatic doctrines.
The scripture tells us to set our minds on things that are pure, and kind, and good. Perhaps the great key to whether or not a world event is the Great Tribulation is in fact our view of life and God, and the way we experience the event. I see this scripture as a heavenly hint towards intentionally building healthy confirmation bias.
I.e. If we believe we are being persecuted, we will see persecution. If we believe we are being caged and taunted, we will experience the lockdown as a moment of being caged, and we will be taunted by our own minds and the dark possibilities they entertain. If we see ourselves as blessed, our future as bright, and the dawning of a new time after Covid19 when we all get out of our houses and enjoy eachothers company again, then that is what will happen. Our perception matters, because it is either a journey into peace or turmoil; a journey into the Great Tribulation or out of it.
Either way, now is not a time to fear. Fear creates stress which is bad for your immune system. Now is a time to use this lock in to learn a new skill, connect with an old friend, and make peace with the things you have avoided for so long.
I personally don’t believe the rapture is going to be a mass event. I believe it is a singular event that happens to each individual at the end of their time on earth – with all its joys and trials and tribulations – when we pass from this life and are caught up into eternity.
My friend Shari Smith has written a kick arse piece on looking after your mental health during this time. I’d encourage you to go read that, and to tune into the podcast if you missed it.
Until next time, look after yourself, be informed, and let good information bring peace and drown out the bad information that only increases fear. Also, go subscribe to the podcast! Now on iTunes and Spotify.
Love and peace