|Left behind at the end of the world?|
Left Behind is a series of novels that describe the end of the world or end of the age that is expected by some Christians. They read the New Testament book of Revelation as literally as a newspaper or a scientific report, and they accept some assumptions, such as “the rapture.” The Greek word translated “Revelation” is “Apocalypse,” which is the best title for this strange book in the New Testament. I urge that we always call that biblical book the Apocalypse of John because it doesn't reveal much.Apocalyptic
Apocalypse is one type of literature in the Old and New Testaments. It contrasts with other kinds of literature: history, parables, poetry, stories, songs, prophesy, and more. There are few examples of apocalyptic, while far more examples of history, parables, poetry, songs, prophesy.
Apocalyptic passion and belief said this abomination was so horrible that only God could make it right. The Old Testament book of Daniel is the result, as well as short apocalyptic sections in a few other later Old Testament books.
The other reaction was to take direct action. The Maccabean family started a guerilla war against the armies of Antiochus Epiphanes and won! The amazing history of that war is in the books of first and second Maccabees in the Apocrypha. It is a classic guerilla war in which the Maccabean fighters knew the geography very well and used that knowledge to beat the formal armies of Antiochus. Then in battles the smaller Maccabean army beat the hellenist army.
In the New Testament apocalyptic is found in two places. It is the book of Revelation that I call "the Apocalypse of John," and it is the "synoptic apocalypse" in Mark 13 that was copied into Matthew 24 and Luke 21. The Apocalypse of John after letters to seven Churches is apocalyptic. In the first century the Roman authorities could not understand that it attacks worship of the Emperor.
In contrast to the apocalyptic waiting for God, the letters of the New Testament reveal people living the best of life in the worst of time with little thought about the apocalyptic.
These two radically different ways to confront awful reality continue for over two thousand years! Do we wait for God to intervene or do we take matters into our own hands and with God’s help and guidance do the best we can? You may dismiss the Apocalypse with Luther's it is "neither apostolic nor prophetic" or Jefferson's "as the ravings of a maniac."
Left Behind novels are apocalyptic
This apocalyptic view was popular in the United States during the 19th century when charismatic preachers led followers to expect an end of the age and of the world often on specific dates. Always, as in the Old Testament book of Daniel, those dates came and nothing happened. As in Daniel, new dates were set, but again it did not happen. Here is a summary of that history. But this "pre-millennial" idea that the world was not redeemable was not popular with the optimism of frontier people.
The alternative, like the Maccabean revolt, was faithful people took direct action. When conditions became intolerable, leaders, who were often charismatic, led reforms. The Protestant Reformers Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Fox, and others revolted against church and social conditions and renewed Christian faith and life. The labor union movement was one of several reactions to abysmal conditions in the work place that led to greatly improved working conditions and higher wages. Twelve-hour work days were reduced to eight, and railroad crews got eight-hour breaks between shifts of driving locomotives. Many churches cooperated with the trade union movement to confront work and urban tyrannies. The civil rights movement eliminated legal discrimination and legally secured the vote. Feminism, which is condemned by many fundamentalists, secured many rights for women not available earlier, and questioned patriarchal assumptions. In these and many other situations people have responded not by waiting for an apocalypse, but rather by working together to change conditions.
Some of these movements have involved bloodshed and violent reactions, while others have been nonviolent and transforming like the Birmingham bus boycott.
In summary, apocalyptic believes only God can fix the problems of the world, while most of the Bible, including the prophets, teach that with God's guidance and grace we must work with others to fix the problems of the world.
Jesus in the New Testament like many of the prophets of the Old Testament called people to act in this world and in this life for justice and peace guided by God, rather than wait for an apocalypse. Jesus says something intriguing in Luke 11:20: "If it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you." He suggests that when he heals, when he teaches and people hear and act, the kingdom has come! The new age has dawned! This view is in the gospels and in Paul's letters.
The Old Testament prophets were preachers rather than foretellers of the future. Here are a few representative passages:
These words are like most of what the prophets said, they are about living in this world and in the present time — "they shall repair the ruined cities." They do not foretell the future. Jesus read the opening lines of Isaiah's poetic vision to start his ministry as reported in the gospel of Luke 4.14–22.
Copyright © 2004 John F. Yeaman