I’ve been having a fascinating discussion with Grace and some of her friends over on her blog, Kingdom Grace about end times. Grace feels awkward when her Christian friends begin discussing the end times (which has been happening in a lot of circles lately) because her beliefs seem to be so very different from theirs. My hope is that some of us can have a discussion here about what we really do believe so we can see if we don’t have more in common with one another than we might have realized.
First, a list of a few things I don’t believe. (And I expect I’m at least reasonably representative of evangelicals today.)
- I don’t believe that Jesus is going to come and take us away so that we won’t have to suffer. No doubt He’ll take some of us away (by death) and He may call us home before the seven year tribulation begins, but I do not believe that we are guaranteed a life free from persecution just because we were born in the west.
- I don’t believe, nor have I ever met anyone who does believe, that the care of our planet doesn’t matter because “it’s all going to burn anyway.” I may have different beliefs from you about the best way to protect our environment, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a proponent of protecting the earth and conserving resourses. You may believe that my ideas are wrong, but you would be wrong to believe that I don’t care deeply.
- I don’t believe that the church is right to ignore the needs of the poor. It’s my theory that the church in the west, and particularly in the US is puzzled as to how we can help the poor. We are already giving large sums of money through taxation and welfare and many of us feel stretched because of this. We don’t get credit for it because this money is taken from us forcibly by our government. These taxes leave us less able (and in many cases, less inclined) to give of our own free will. Further, many of us believe that simply giving money to many among the poor does not solve their root problems, which are far deeper than a lack of funds. We don’t know what to do, so many of us do nothing. It is a problem that needs to be solved, but it has nothing to do with our eschatology.
- I don’t believe that we will spend eternity in some unearthly “paradise” that has nothing to do with the earth. I’ve recently come to realize that many Christians, both evangelical and otherwise do believe this, but I have no idea where they got the idea and I have never believed it nor heard it taught from the pulpit. I’m not saying it hasn’t been taught–I just haven’t heard it.
- I don’t believe we will oppress sinners and rule them with a rod of iron. I caught a whiff of this misconception at a blog post I read recently, and it genuinely puzzled me. “Where did they get that idea?” was my first thought. Possibly a misinterpretation of Psalm two?
There are of course a lot of other things I don’t believe. They certainly outnumber the things I do believe–there are so many more of them to choose from. All I ask regarding this is that if you don’t see it here, ask. Please don’t just assume I believe XYZ because you’ve heard someone say that’s what evangelicals believe. And please leave the Left Behind series out of the discussion? It’s fiction; I’ve read most of it and enjoyed some of it; I don’t swallow the eschatology whole. There are things LaHaye includes that I do believe, and things I believe he got wrong. Eschatology is like that. We’re going to disagree on some of it.
The following is a brief summary of my beliefs. I’m not going to defend them here, though I can defend them. This is a blog post; not a book (I hope). Just because I can defend my beliefs doesn’t mean I’m right or that I have a full understanding of these things. My defense might be mistaken, but I don’t think so–otherwise, I’d change my mind (obviously).
So, this is how I see prophecy (the predictive kind):
- Prophecy has a spiritual interpretation.
- Prophecy has a literal interpretation.
- Prophecy often has many partial fulfillments, like birth pangs, which are not the fulfillment, but may look very like it, particularly to the people in the midst of the action.
- Prophecy has an ultimate and complete fulfillment, which satisfies both spiritual and physical aspects of the prediction in every detail.
I do see the second coming of Christ as literal. I see it as literally happening as described in scripture, with Jesus literally coming in the sky from the eastern hemisphere, and I really hope (being of an artistic and romantic bent) that He really is riding on a magnificent white horse (though that may be figurative language).
I believe that the time periods mentioned in the bible are literal. They were literal in predicting the time of Jesus first advent, and I see them as literal with regard to the seven years of tribulation and the 1000 year reign of Christ. If you see them otherwise, I feel pretty sure that God still loves you anyway. 😉
I believe that the 1000 (millenial reign) of Jesus over the earth will commence after His return to earth, following the seven year tribulation. I do not believe that we are living in this millenial reign now, or that it is a figurative reign from Heaven during which He waits for His church to subdue the earth.
I believe that we can’t know when Jesus will return, though He did give us signs of His coming that He intends us to pay attention to. Several of these markers have slotted undeniably into place, with the most vital of them being the return to statehood of the nation of Israel. This is an unbelievably remarkable occurrence in exact compliance with the predictions of scripture. Whether you love or hate Israel, any careful observer will acknowledge that the fact of its return after all these centuries is no less than a miracle. Students and elucidators of scripture have long held that the predictions concerning Israel applied to the church, the spiritual Israel. I don’t necessarily disagree with that. But the predictions have been fulfilled in the physical Israel and this is a remarkable thing. I believe these predictions have yet to reach their full expression in the church, if that is, indeed, a part of the prophets’ meaning.
Many other signs seem to be lining up. The last century has been the most violent in the history of the world, due in large part to our increasing technological abilities to kill masses of people efficiently (as in the holocaust of the Jews and more recently, the mass murders of his own people by Sadam Hussein). Of course, wars and rumors of wars have never been absent, but they are escalating. I know many of you are alarmed at this, as am I. I don’t know whether earthquakes and floods have increased or whether we just have better knowledge of them, but if you follow this sort of thing, you know we’ve been having plenty of them. I don’t see this as a punishment from God, btw, but a simply a prediction of what will happen in the last days. These things do not mean the end is coming, but they are signs that things are getting more serious.
I believe that there have been many anti-christs, but that there will be one final fulfillment of this prophecy in the “man of sin”: the Antichrist. I don’t believe that Barack Obama is The Antichrist (I may be wrong, but he doesn’t seem to fulfill all the predictors physically), but he may be an antichrist. He is certainly not a Christian in the biblical sense. You have only to read his own testimony to see this. I read it on his very own website. Of course, a lot of politicians who claim to be Christians aren’t really Christians at all. They’re just using “godliness as a means of gain” just as Obama is. But Obama shows signs of being dangerous to real believers in Jesus. His “liberation theology” is violently antagonistic to traditional
Christianity (which is non-violent by definition) and to a lot of other things. Liberation theology as defined by its proponents is not a “peaceful and beautiful religion.” It is a religion of hate. Perhaps the people who adhere to it have been hurt badly and their beliefs are understandable because of their experiences, but this does not justify following a doctrine of hatred, and it does not transform that doctrine into biblical Christianity. Christians are the sort of people who love their enemies. This is because of Christ in us, the hope of glory. We aren’t justified in hating liberation theology followers. But they’re still not Christians, even though God certainly loves them.
Because there has been so much misunderstanding over why “so-called Christians” refuse to see that Barack Obama is the hope for America, I want to talk about this a little further. Barack Obama accepts and revels in the worship of his followers. Christian bands often do this too, and they’re not the anti-christ (they’re also not bringing glory to God when they do this), but Obama’s pseudo-humility and the swooning of the masses makes him look suspicious to evangelicals. It doesn’t help that messianic adjectives are liberally applied to him by the adoring press corps. Obama simply looks too perfect; too handsome; too rich; too charismatic; too young and charming; too clever; too mesmerizing; too globally accepted to trust. In a word, he just looks like the anti-christ to a lot of evangelical Christians. I’m sorry, but that’s the plain truth.
The single fact that he is not European and does not appear to be physically of the race of the Csars brings us up. We typically do believe that physical as well as spiritual aspects have to come together before a prophecy can be considered fulfilled, and as far as we can see, Obama’s heritage precludes his being The One. Of course, most people didn’t know where Jesus was from, and the anti-christ will follow Jesus’ pattern pretty closely (except that he will come in his own name). Therefore, it might be that we don’t really know that much about Obama’s heritage. That there might be some links there that haven’t come to the public eye. Who knows? If he loses the election, that pretty much knocks him out of the running because you could no longer say that he came from obscurity–for sure. The fact that he’s running for the American presidency doesn’t look good for his chances of being The One either, but prophecy is a bit vague on this point, so we’re holding our opinions in reserve.
And we’re not voting for him. Why? First, because he’s pro-choice. Second because we see him as a socialist, and most of us believe history shows that socialism doesn’t work and often leads to totaliarianism. Third because he pretends to be a Christian and isn’t. (That’s only third because it’s so common in American politicians.) There are other reasons–too many to list. Somewhere in there, overshadowing it all, is the messianic aura that seems to surround this man. That alone is reason enough for me not to vote for him. He doesn’t scare me, but he does creep me out.
As for the tribulation itself, I believe that the miseries are literal, though much of the imagery is apocalyptic and therefore symbolic and figurative. I realize that this might not fit everyone’s picture of a loving God. We don’t understand everything, and God doesn’t conform to our ideas of what He should be all the time. He says He does these things to turn people to Him and yet they don’t turn. This doesn’t mean that none of them turn. John said that no one received Jesus’ witness, and yet it’s clear that a few people did receive it. In both cases, I see these as general statements, true of most of the population. A few people will turn, and God means to have these few with Him as a precious part of His Son’s body and bride and family.
Following the tribulation, Jesus will return, visible to all the world, and defeat the anti-christ and his armies. Satan will be bound for a literal thousand years and then will be loosed for a time, to give those living on the earth who haven’t chosen God a chance to choose whom they will. Some will choose Satan. Amazing, that with so much light some will yet choose darkness. They will march on the holy city and God will destroy them. After this, the final judgment will take place and those who have chosen God will be with God; likewise, those who have chosen self will be with themselves.
People do have a choice. I would like to be a universalist (one who believes that all will eventually come to salvation), but
scripture doesn’t support it. Oh, you can twist a few passages,
conjecture from a few statements, and try to make a case for it. I have
tried myself. It just doesn’t work for me. I trust God. He is
righteous, just, and merciful. He will not do anything outside of love.
I believe, though, that along with being loving, He is just. He will
not tolerate sin in His presence and yet He will not force sinners to
give up their sin. So that is Hell. Being apart from Him. I don’t think
anyone who wants to be with God will be forced to spend eternity
without Him, but I do believe that some people will spend eternity
without Him. They don’t want Him, and He won’t force Himself on them.
As for those who love God? We will spend eternity right here, though Jesus will first renew the heavens and the earth. This will be Heaven–why? Because God will be here. Not that He isn’t now, but God will be present with us and we will be capable of percieving Him and He will reign on the earth (which is a thing He obviously isn’t doing now.) We will have spiritual/physical bodies that have been perfected and glorified, and we won’t float around on clouds playing harps. I expect we’ll have plenty to do just exploring God and the things He has and continues to create.
So there you have it. Pretty conventional views, I think, though they don’t represent in every sense all views of all evangelicals. If you’ve made it this far, tell me how and where you disagree, and why. I’d love to know and I will still love and accept you as family (just as I love and accept my physical brothers when they disagree with me (which they’re not afraid to do!))