Monday, February 11, 2013

What Does the New Testament Say About the Apocalypse?

Check out today's episode

I have recently finished reading the New Testament and I am collecting my thoughts about what I read in this series of posts. Today I am writing about what the New Testament says about the apocalypse. Other entries in this series:

1. Slavery

My primary concern with this post is when the apocalypse will happen. Ideally, I would be able to post a complete list of new testament verses that reference the end times, however, the specific purposes of my bible reading evolved a bit over the year and this is not something I had my eye on at the beginning. It is entirely possible that there are more verses that I have missed, especially early on. However, I have plenty of material here, so there is little harm.

The first verse that I have which mentions the return of Jesus is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 will happen before those in the crowd die. Unless someone in that crowd has a life span of at least 2000 years, I think this verse is pretty well busted. At the time of reading 1 Thessalonians, I hadn't started consulting the Christian commentaries yet. I was curious how this particular problem would be solved and looked up Guzik's article. He focuses on the fact that those who happen to be alive will not get favoritism over those who died before the event. To address the fact that the apocalypse would occur before they died, he said that Paul was setting up expectancy in the church, it is supposedly good for churches of all ages to expect an imminent return of Jesus. So Paul wasn't wrong, he was just lying to the future church? Seems to be a pretty poor defense to me. This mentality will be reflected in the next point.

There are a huge number of verses that simply mention that the apocalypse is coming very soon. 2 Timothy 1:12,18James 5:3,81 Peter 4:71 John 2:18Jude 18-19Revelation 1:1,3Revelation 3:2,3Revelation 3:10-11Revelation 22:6,7,10,12,20. What exactly does very soon mean? It never gives a specific amount of time, so arguments could be made for all kinds of different time frames, even years, but millennia? I find it hard to accept that a perfect God would be that sloppy with his communication. Not surprisingly, the theists have an answer for this, and also not surprisingly, I find the answer unsatisfactory. Guzik advanced the idea a number of times that the Greek word that "very soon" is translated from means quickly, not soon. So what the verses really mean is not that the end is about to happen, but that once it starts to happen it will happen quickly. I addressed this best in Revelation 1 with help from the lexicon, in short, there are some verses where this defense might hold up, but others where the Greek word clearly does mean soon, and not quickly. Furthermore, as we see in Revelation 13, the beast is allowed to rule for three and a half years. I would hardly say that is particularly quick.

Another argument that Guzik puts forward multiple times involves an analogy of the apocalypse as going over a cliff. He says that we are not running toward a cliff's edge, but instead we are running alongside a cliff, and at any moment we could make a left turn and fall off. In this way we are always on the edge, although we might be on that edge for thousands of years. I must say that I find this argument beyond silly. There is a big difference between "you could fall at any moment" which is what Guzik seems to be proposing here, and "you will fall off soon" which is what actually seems to be contained in the bible.

I am mostly interested in the timing of the apocalypse for this post, but while we are talking about it, what are the end times like? The only place where this is really explored is in Revelation, and it is pretty hard to know exactly how much of that is supposed to be taken literally. But the clear point of the story is that anyone who is not on God's side (including those who were tricked into following Satan) will suffer a very violent and painful end followed by an eternity in a lake of fire. This message is very hard to square with a loving God.


  1. "Behold, I come quickly..." - Ninja Jesus

    Too many Christians seem inappropriately OK with God's plan for tormenting people, but what I really can't understand is, as you point out so well, the NT says over and over and over again that Jesus would be coming back "soon," and yet people still look for Him today.

    That just proves that the will to believe trumps the reason to believe.

    1. "the will to believe trumps the reason to believe"

      that's a great line. And yeah, people thinking that Jesus will return within a few years are completely baffling. If "soon" in the bible means "give or take 2000 years", then why would you think you can narrow it down to a few years. Hell, why would you think you could narrow it down to your lifetime? Certainly a single human lifetime is well within the margin of error when we are talking about millennia.


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