End times beliefs are the single most annoying topic in the entire world. Hands down. Luckily some of the recent hype has cooled off since the last book in the Left Behind Series. Part of my irritation with end times scenarios has to do with that fact that everybody became an end times expert after reading a dozen or so fiction books…oh yeah, and then Kirk Cameron made a movie. And that pretty much placed Tim LaHaye in line for apostolic succession.
I don’t believe in the dispensational model. At all. In fact, I can’t stand it. It’s silly. For two reasons, really. First, dispensationalism is a comprehensive theology of which end times beliefs are a part. But its founder, John Nelson Darby, was so obsessed with end times beliefs, that he approached theology backwards starting with apocalyptic/end times passages and made everything else in the Bible fit his predetermined model. So, to adhere to that end times scenario - including the rapture, tribulation, and whole Antichrist/Israel treaty thing – you have to adopt the rest of dispensationalism’s model for all previous church eras as well. Otherwise, the whole system collapses. I can’t do that because I’m a charismatic. According to Dispensationalists, the gifts of the Spirit passed away as part of the early postbiblical dispensation – one of several failed dispensations. They adhere to the “scaffolding model” which teaches that the gifts of the Spirit passed from existence once the church became established and the canon was closed. 500 million Pentecostals prove that the scaffolding model is inaccurate everyday. If you don’t agree with the scaffolding model then you can’t believe the Left Behind Series either. Sorry, folks. Well, you can, but at least know that the thinking behind the model denies the present possibility of spiritual gifts.
Secondly, a literal interpretation of apocalyptic texts is inaccurate. Alas, I must side with Reformists in this regard (but maybe for different reasons). I am an Amillenialist. I like Kim Riddlebarger. God help us all. My reasons for adopting this postition have little to do with Augustine’s symbolic reading of revelation. He was following the lead of his mentor Ambrose of Milan and the Alexandrian school. So, even though those guys were using Greek allegorical interpretation for the book of Revelation, they got the interpretation right by accident. This is becasue, it’s not Greek allegory that unpacks Revelation; it’s Hebrew apocalyptic imagery. Generally, the same conclusions were reached but a very different way of getting there. Revelation, Daniel, and all the other prophetic books in the Bible hinge upon Hebrew apocalyptic interpretation. So the Jewish writers were being symbolic too, just not in the same way as Augustine. That makes for huge holes in the dispensational model. The apocalyptic context of those prophetic books is completely lost in that end times model. Let me give you two examples.
In Matthew 24, dispensationalists believe Jesus was talking about a great tribulation at the end of time. However, if we look back to the first century context, he was obviously referring to the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 CE. How do we know that? Well for one, he states that “where the dead body is, the eagles will gather together.” Strange huh? What does that have to do with the Temple? A lot. The rabbis of Jesus’s time had a saying: “Where the carcass lies the vultures will gather.” Similar to what Jesus says. They basically meant, “where there’s smoke there’s fire or what goes around comes around.” But Jesus substitutes a particular bird: the eagle. Why? Because the eagle was the national military symbol for Rome. Who destroyed the Temple? The Romans. Hello!! A bunch of other little clues in that passage point us to 70 CE as well. Either way, the prediction was miraculous. Jesus’s prophecy didn’t have to be 2000 years away in order to be amazing. That’s the beauty of the whole passage. He predicted something unforseen but within a time frame so that the majority of his followers would recognize its fulfillment. Now that’s incredicble. When was the last time you predicted 40 years into the future?
And then there’s that whole Daniel 9 thing. Dispensational end times models hinge on vv. 24-27. That model requires you to place a gap or chonological break in time between vv. 26 and 27. Is there any indication that there should be a gap between those verses? No. Dispensationalists have to insert it. Sorry. I can’t do that. The original context works just fine. The scripture gives no indication that 2000+ years must pass between those two verses. Therefore, the interpretation of Revelation that hinges upon that gap in Daniel cannot be valid.
So how do you interpret Revelation? Well, the book is made up of “echoes” that allude to other parts of the Bible. Those echoes interpret the book for you – that’s the code. Here are some examples: the seven Spirits in Revelation 1:4 echo Isaiah 11:2. For the description of Jesus in 1:12-16, see the echoes in Ezekiel 43:1-3 and Psalm 24:7-10. Who is that white horseman in 6:2? Go read Psalm 45. Want to know about New Jerusalem? Don’t ask your local millennial expert - Isaiah already wrote about it in 60:14. Even some of the echoes are in the New Testament: check out Revelation 21:4 against 2 Corinthians 7:10 and 5:17. See there, now you know what that means, too. Revelation is a book of a thousand echoes to retell the story of Christ’s triumph.
Why do people get so excited about end times beliefs? I think it’s because Christianity sometimes isn’t what we hoped it would be. It’s not that exciting, so we dream up a fanciful ending and write books about it. I also think if we’re honest we have to admit that we like the idea of people getting what’s coming to them: “Oh, you wanna treat me badly? Just wait until the tribulation, buddy. Then we’ll see who’s right.” The problem is that persecuted Sudanese Christians already think they are living through the great tribulation right now. What about them?
God is not busy planning events to coincide with the tenth book of the Left Behind Series. That distracts from our present responsibilities of Christian service. God is here to be present with all of us now. And a responsible view of eschatology places him in the here and now, fully capable of meeting our every need and fellowshipping with each of us. Wanna taste heaven? Spend some time basking in the presence of the Holy Spirit and worshipping God with all your heart. I guarantee you that you’ll taste heaven.
Wanna read a good book? Go read Richard Kyle’s The Last Days Are Here Again.