The world is not ending!

May 16th, 2011 | By | Category: Spirituality

It is claimed that the world is going to end this weekend; the Bible says it is not.  Scripture says no-one knows the hour, so anyone making dramatic claims denies the Scripture they purport to uphold.

In times past, the Book of Revelation used to terrify me. Our staff at school were very deeply steeped in a brand of Protestant fundamentalism that found all sorts of stuff in Revelation to tell themselves that a time was near when Jesus would return and take them to be with him, leaving the world in the hands of Satanic powers and those left behind to a future in hell.

Some versions of what would happen were slightly more optimistic for people like myself, Jesus would return as he said, taking to himself those who had believed in him, but then there would be a period of three and a half years in which there would be a chance for those who had been left behind to repent. There was an American company called Chick Publications that produced comic books explaining how all these things would happen. The writers of such stuff said that the ‘ten-horned beast’ in Revelation 13 was the European Community (there were ten members at the time) and identified other texts from the book with things happening at the time, particularly the conflict in the Middle East in the 1970s.

I don’t suppose I should have been surprised when I later discovered that Catholic fundamentalists used the same book, and in some cases the same texts, to support the things they believed. Some of the wilder claims about Mary the mother of Jesus found their origin in obscure references in the Book of Revelation.

When I went to theological college the approach tended to be much more analytical. The book was part of a tradition in Jewish writing dating back to prophets such as Ezekiel and Daniel and that much of it would only make sense to readers at the time. John was writing at a time when the Christian community in Rome was suffering terrible persecution under the emperor Nero. John dare not speak the name of Nero, so he calculates what his name would be in Hebrew characters where each letter also represented a number, and he gets the number ‘666’. (Sorry to disappoint those who are into a certain brand of horror film, the number of the beast is simply a name for a long-dead Roman emperor who went mad).

There has been a tradition in the Church of Ireland of avoiding this last book in the Bible. The extremists on both sides have made so much of this book that we have avoided getting involved with it. It’s a pity because John’s insights can help us with being Christians today.

What many people need today is the confidence to go on being Christians when everything and everyone around them says they should give up. The faith that has held people down through the generations is losing its grip on people’s lives.Why go to church when there are other things to do? Why keep the Commandments when other people don’t bother? Why believe when it seems to make no difference?

We can’t understand all the things John says in Revelation, but we do know that the people reading what he wrote were going through terrible times. It would have been much, much easier for them to have given up what they believed; life would have been so much safer. What confidence could they have had that their faith was going to survive? They couldn’t look back on 2,000 years of Christian history.

At the heart of what they believed, something that comes through again and again in the Book of Revelation, is a God who is real, a God who is present, a God who is active. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” What the Church most needs is a sense of that God; the God who is the beginning and the end; the God who is all powerful, in all places, at all times.


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  1. I vividly remember the end of the world.

    I think it was 1960, or 1963, or both. I was periodically terrified in my youth at the thought of the end of the world, which was just around the corner, according to some religious alarmists. That and the terror of the nuclear holocaust in the context of films like War Games and Fail Safe.

    As for the books of the bible, you can take consolation in the fact that they were all read from the altar, just down the road from me, in the run up to Easter.

  2. The first sensible summary of the Book of Revelation I’ve encountered.
    As for the end of the world – I’m often telling people it’s not the end of the world.
    But I recall it seeming imminentish around the time of Greenham Common, SS20s, Cruise, etc. So, back then, I thought I’d visit the peace camp there to bring greetings from across the Irish Sea. They were not pleased to see me. I think it was a gender thing.

  3. Chick Publications would have been enthusiastic about a 1980s nuclear holocaust! I know people who really believe that the final battle will be in the valley of Megiddo in Israel.

    I think the Greenham Common protesters description of themselves as a ‘women’s peace camp’ might have been a clue as to their gender prejudice – radical feminists are as bigoted as male chauvinists.

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