Confronting the Apocalyptic 'Boogeyman'
The understanding and perception of the Bible as a book detailing the fulfillment of prophecies only now getting ready to come true, means that specific sections of the Old and New Testament will come in handy as prooftexts that mankind needs to obey God for fear that the apocalypse could happen at any moment. Implicit in this notion is the ongoing worry that the very moment one backslides, that is the time when Jesus could come as a thief. Each generation of Christians keeps this belief alive; each generation looks upon the textual promise of a soon-coming Jesus as an event which might easily catch a believer with his or her work undone. And it is this multi-generational prospect of being caught unready that causes many people to hesitate to see the New Testament Second Coming for what it was intended to be: a public termination of a religious era which also began publicly.
Without realizing what the New Testament really advocates and stands for, Christians are easily susceptible to cave in to FEAR—false evidence appearing real. This fear is a double-edged sword and cuts coming and going. Coming: It cuts the believer off from an intelligent discussion about what the early Christians were taught; what they believed and what they expected (the end of the Levitical system of things and the theocratic Jewish State). Going: it cuts the believer off from understanding and agreeing with anyone who has studied and acknowledged that the Second Coming is more than likely a past historical event (an event which nevertheless is still important to understand and which still has major ramifications for what it means to be a Christian in time and in eternity).
This short essay would like to explore what real value Bible prophecy as a scare has—and more importantly, what kind of harm it does.
Perceived Value of a Belief and Unintended Harm
The idea that Jesus is coming soon is a rallying call. It urges Christians and sinners alike to take heed and consider that time is now running out. Not having a long time to go, it is important to "work while it is day, for when night cometh no man can work." With the tribulation just ahead of us, and with the Rapture possible even now, it behooves everyone to walk the straight and narrow (and many do). However, the danger behind this belief is a state of alarm reinforced by articles and books and misleading news accounts. But when one year comes and another goes and nothing materializes, certainly, after an extended time these expectations become tiresome and begin to ring hollow and untrue. With age Christians can gradually become silently indifferent because they have seen and heard this kind of reasoning time after time.
Over time the belief may, therefore, be sustained, but the inherent value will have evaporated. What happens with the onset of old age? What happens with the realization that college or marriage or a family were forsaken? All these things gone a-begging can easily inspire a tidal wave of regret and remorse—even sullen resentment. The doctrine of a soon-coming Savior implies to many that they shall escape the process of actually growing old. It may even suggest to some that they shall never know what it is like to be dying. When they are growing old, then what? And when they are dying, then what? When the strength of youth begins to slip away and when the events long awaited mock, what becomes of a once stalwart faith? After all was said and done emptiness could well be the reward and the belief, in and of itself, could brandish itself as an undeniable liability.
A Misguided Obedience
The desire to understand the Second Coming as future can also inspire a belief that to truly obey God one must avoid the notion that a mysterious fulfillment in a cryptic and poorly documented antiquity has any validity at all. "Obedience to God," in this case, means adroitly submitting oneself to the consensus of the masses, which feels safe. However, the safety of the masses never caused a book's claims to be fulfilled—never has and never will! No matter how sincerely or eloquently written, the writings of Lindsey and Lahaye, Hagee and Graham and Roberts and Van Impe did not and could not come true. Their expectations of a 20th century Second Coming (falsified by the very process of time itself) were a complete and utter fabrication and, ultimately, waste of ink, paper, energy and time. Their claims provided a temporary way to couch contemporary political realities in the wardrobe of end-time prophecies, but not a single claim failed to embarrass and disappoint, while skeptics gleefully looked on with amusement and giggled.
We would like to submit that instead of being a subject to inspire actions based on fear of impending events which notoriously elude, Bible prophecy studies might receive justice if understood as a subject to inspire trust in Jesus as Lord and someone who can be depended on to keep his word. It starts first with a firm belief that the Second Coming as a soon event was good and legal tender for the people who obtained the autograph copies of the New Testament. This is the very opposite of the popular notion which wishes us to believe Jesus intended to return in the first century and failed. We reject this and say he succeeded. When others allege he also intended to realize his return in connection with 20th century events and was again hindered for reasons unknown to us, we counter that he intended to return in the first century(and did) but many aspects of it remain mysterious by virtue of the distance of time and the very nature of the event.
Charting a Way Forward Towards Stability
Despite these glaring irregularities and frequent failings, the fearful interpretation of this subject remains a staple for the majority of people in the Christian world. In an ironic way, using Bible prophecy as a scare leads directly to being scared to believe just what God said! Nevertheless, our goal is to establish and sustain fellowship environments where such notions can be recognized and intelligently repudiated. Our teaching efforts aim to establish that the accomplishment of those prophecies can be used as solid and stable building blocks to understand why Christ, the Church, the Kingdom and the New Jerusalem must remain the primary focal point of importance for Christians and their churches going forward.
Picture: The Scream, 1893 Edvard Munch.