What’s the deal with the wrath of God? I mean, the Bible tells us that God is love. And yet, numerous times in Scripture, God is angry, punishing those who fall out of line. So, how are we to understand the wrath of God? The New Testament uses this term to refer to three different things as determined by the context:

  1. The “coming wrath” describes the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D.
  2. God’s wrath refers to the Day of Judgement at the end of time.
  3. God’s wrath is the natural consequence of sin.

The “Coming Wrath”

The events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem feature heavily in the prophetic parts of the New Testament. Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are entirely dedicated to these events, as is Revelation. (Cf. Revelation 6:16-17; 14:10, 19, 15:1).

John the Baptist questioned the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising people. He said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Luke has John saying this “to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him.” What a novel way to start a sermon!

Jesus said, How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. The land refers to first-century Israel.

Paul spoke of this in 1 Thessalonians: and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. More on that in a moment.

Jerusalem’s Destruction

Jesus warned of the events leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, “And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. Then, those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country should not return to the city. For those will be days of God’s vengeance, and the prophetic words of the Scriptures will be fulfilled (Luke 21:20-22). In other words, the so-called “end times” prophecies that some Christians still use to traumatise God’s people were fulfilled in the first century. Let that sink in.

History reveals that Jesus’ followers understood His prophecies. The believers obeyed the warnings and fled Jerusalem to a town called Pella in the southern hills (those in Judea must flee to the hills), thus saving themselves. Not a single Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem. Christians left Jerusalem, thus escaping what Jesus referred to as great tribulation. The destruction of Jerusalem occurred three and a half years later, at the end of the Great Tribulation.

And so, this is what Paul foretold in 1 Thessalonians in the early 50s: and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Judgement Day

God’s wrath can also refer to the Day of Judgement at the end of time. Judgement Day is God’s guarantee of ultimate justice. Think of all the times when there hasn’t been justice in this life. Maybe you’ve experienced this or seen the fate of others who have suffered unfairly, and you’ve asked yourself, where is the justice in life? Well, wait. The New Testament is replete with forewarnings about Judgement Day:

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” And, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” That’s because they’ve trusted someone who’s been there (death) and returned.

Paul wrote extensively about Judgement Day as an expression of God’s wrath. Consider Romans 2:5: But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Cf. Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6). God’s Judgement is a punishment, not a beating.

Suffer the Consequences

The final meaning of God’s wrath in Scripture is allowing people to suffer the consequences of their choices. Paul’s letter to the Romans is handy here: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people. The rest of chapter one shows how Paul defines this wrath of God: God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts. God gave them over to shameful lusts. God gave them over to a depraved mind. (Vs. 24, 26, 28)

God is like a parent who says, well, that’s not how I want you to behave, but if you persist with having your way, you’ll also need to be prepared to wear the consequences of your choices. People have free will, and God does not control us.

Controlled Anger

God is a loving father who is angry at injustice. Righteous anger is an ethical expression of authentic love as inferred by the Greek word translated “wrath. Orgē comes from the verb oragō meaning, ‘to teem, or swell.’ God’s wrath is not a sudden outburst but a controlled, passionate response to wickedness and unfairness: His anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime. Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

God loves all people, but that love doesn’t mean that certain behaviours don’t anger God. God’s wrath will be satisfied by ultimate justice being done and appropriate punishment being given. But, as the Psalmist declares, “He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever.” That is good news for everyone.

I regularly hear words of alarm and outrage from some of Jesus’ followers who embrace a gloomy view of the world. Confession: I used to hold that viewpoint, too. It’s all tied into a futurist understanding of Revelation and Bible prophecy, which teaches that things will worsen until Jesus returns. I used to look for evidence that everything was deteriorating, but I eventually woke up because history and the present world tell a different story. For the most part, the world is a better place to live now than ever in human history.

And so, when I hear people say, “Every year, it gets worse and worse,” I find myself reacting to this so-called “Christian” form of outrage. Some of Jesus’ followers feel compelled to be incensed about something as fuel to keep their faith alive. I don’t believe this is an appropriate way for God’s people to live.

Amazing Insight

Consider what it would be like to build a church in a corrupt and dreadful place next to a temple that was dedicated to an idolatrous god that was worshipped by people having sex with prostitutes and animals. That story is reflected in Jesus’ incredible discussion with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, near a mountainous region containing Mount Hermon, Israel’s largest mountain.

Matthew tells us that Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him. They told Jesus that people’s opinions were mixed, with some believing Jesus was John the Baptist reincarnated. Others thought Jesus was Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets who had returned from the dead.

Jesus then asked his disciples for their thoughts on his identity. Peter answered first, of course, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Play on Words

Jesus told Peter that his insights had a heavenly origin, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

The Play on words in the original manuscript was between Peter (Petros), a rock that can be thrown, and Rock (Petra), a large mass rising from the earth. Matthew 16:18 could be translated as, “I tell you, Peter, that you are like a little stone, but on this massive mountain of the revelation of who I am, I will build my church.” The Church was and is established on the foundation of Jesus the Messiah.

The Worst Place

So, what are the gates of Hades that will not overcome Jesus’ Church? As mentioned, this conversation occurred at Caesarea Philippi, ancient Paneas, “The city of Pan.” In Jesus’ day, a temple to the goat god Pan was at the centre of town.

Pan received worship through intimate acts with goats. The court in public view outside the temple was called the Court of Pan and the Nymphs. Nymphs are creatures of fantasy, like elves or fairies and were thought to be a large group of inferior divinities. Today, the word can refer to a woman who suffers from hypersexuality, a mental illness.

Pan’s temple was set on the side of a gigantic rock face. Next to it was an enormous cave where the Jordan River originates and flows to the Dead Sea. The cave was called the “gates of Hell.” The priests of Pan would say that if you did not worship Pan to his satisfaction, he would open the cave and swallow you into Hell.

For the disciples, this was an evil place, and this is where Jesus says, on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. In other words, think of the most formidable and least likely place to found a church; that is where the Church will thrive.

Worth Considering

I find it fascinating that of all the places where Jesus could initiate his Church, he chose that place. It’s a truth that resonates through the centuries right down to our time.

The Church has had the worst of things thrown at it. It’s been outlawed and oppressed, and its people persecuted and martyred. Sacred books and Bibles were burned or banned. Add to that the trouble we’ve brought on ourselves – immoral and abusive pastors and priests, Church splits, discrimination against minorities and selfishness, always wanting everything our way. It’s a miracle that the Church still exists, but here we are.

My encouragement to you is simple: while some awful things are happening in the world right now, the world is much better than it was. If you follow Jesus, Set your mind on things above, not earthly things. Jesus affirmed that His Church would be built on the rock where the darkest rituals occurred, and it would prevail. Live in faith, not fear and be encouraged.

 

I became a Christian in the late 70s, attracted by the love and grace of God that I saw in some Christian people I met while hitchhiking around Australia. But I was soon caught up in the buzz around the book of Revelation and Bible prophecy. The rapture and the end of the world were going to happen between 1983 and 1988, except they didn’t.

Then there was the satanic panic of the 80s and 90s, with over 12,000 unsubstantiated Satanic ritual abuse cases. The Left Behind series of books and films fed a generation of Christians an erroneous view of Revelation. The last few years, especially since the pandemic, have witnessed the rise of QAnon and a supposed Deep State cabal of Satanic Paedophiles manipulating the planet’s governments.

Wising Up

It has taken me many years to realise that some Christians lurch from one false prediction or plot to the next with minimal reflection. There appears to be little to no awareness that such-and-such prophecy was incorrect. They move ahead while stirring up more fear and outrage with whatever the latest conspiracy flavour happens to be.

A steady diet of certain media outlets feeds the fear and outrage. It saddens me to see Christian leaders and others go down the rabbit hole. I’ve watched it for over forty years. It’s unbiblical and un-Christlike. Jesus did not come to build a fearful, angry church; he came to create a victorious one. Christians, please wise up!

On THIS Rock

Matthew records a fascinating discussion between Jesus and his disciples in which he asks them what the public is saying about his identity. All the answers were wrong, but Peter was spot on, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Jesus is using a play on words. Peter (Gk. Petros) means a small stone or pebble found along a pathway. A stone that someone could throw. Rock (Gk. Petra) refers to a vast mass of solid rock rising from the earth, such as a mountain or precipice. Jesus’ words could be translated as follows: I tell you that you are a little pebble, and on this gigantic rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

The Gates of Hades

Hades was the god who presided over the underworld, called the house of Hades. It was believed to be the place where people went when they died. The New Testament adopts this name for the realm of the dead and pictures it as a large city with its gates representing its power.

In the first century, cities were fortified with walls and gates. On attack, the gates would be closed. The enemy would target the gates as the place of greatest vulnerability. Through the gates, the Army would seek to destroy the invading force.

A Little History

The conversation between Jesus, Peter, and the other disciples occurs in Caesarea Philippi, a mountainous area close to Mount Hermon, the tallest mountain in Israel. The area was known as Bashan in the Old Testament and had a bad reputation. Sihon and Og, two kings of Bashan, had ties to the ancient tribes of Rephaim and Anakim (Deuteronomy 2:10–12; Joshua 12:1–5). Their kingdom’s principal cities were Ashtaroth and Edrei.

The ancients regarded the Rephaim as the spirits of slain warrior kings. Additionally, they believed that the twin cities were Sheol’s gates, the entrance to Hades. Jeroboam constructed a pagan religious complex in Dan, just south of Mount Hermon, where the Israelites worshipped Baal rather than Yahweh.

The Sons of God

People in Jesus’ time, including his disciples, perceived Bashan as terrifying and awful. Jewish tradition holds that the sons of God descended from heaven on Mount Hermon, ultimately corrupting humans by their offspring with human women (see Gen. 6:1-4).

These offspring were Nephilim (giants) and were considered ancestors of the Anakim and the Rephaim (Numbers 13:30–33). According to Enoch’s book, these giants’ spirits were evil spirits sent to dwell on the earth (1 Enoch 15:1–12).

To make the region even spookier, Caesarea Philippi had been dedicated to Zeus; a pagan god people worshipped at a religious centre built at the foot of Mount Hermon. Aside from the brief interlude during the time of Joshua through Solomon, the gates of hell were continually open for business.

The Rock and The Gates

The rock Jesus referred to in this passage was neither Peter nor himself. Jesus suggested the rock where they stood at the foot of Mount Hermon, the demonic headquarters of the Old Testament and the first-century world.

The Church that Jesus envisions in these verses is victorious. He was declaring war on Satan, sin, and death, the things he defeated by his death and resurrection. What Jesus is teaching in this discussion with his disciples is this:

Think of the worst or most challenging place to establish a church, and that’s where I’ll build mine. Find the hub of satanic activity, false religion, and superstition. I will build my church atop the gates of hell and bury them.

And that’s why I challenge the voices of fear and outrage from some quarters of the Christian church. And, if you’re caught up in these voices, I challenge you to stop feeding yourself defeatist drivel. Jesus built his church on a massive rock, saying the gates of Hades would not overcome it. Was he telling the truth? Jesus IS the Truth.

The end of the world is near. Again!

This time the prediction came from a pastor of a Nigerian church but pastors, church and cult leaders have been forecasting the end, the rapture, the second coming for centuries, sometimes with tragic results.

Dozens of people were recently freed from an abandoned school where they were awaiting the Second Coming. The 77 people, including 26 children and eight teenagers, were rescued by police. The raid came after a mother complained her children were missing and thought they were in the church.

An assistant pastor in the church told the members that the rapture would take place in April but later said it had been changed to September 2022. I wonder if the delay is due to staff shortages in heaven resulting from the pandemic? God simply could not get enough angels to staff the rapture, so it’s been put off until September.

People have been predicting the rapture for decades. They really should give up. There’s just no future in it.

Scaremongering

Claims like these should be rejected as just another scaremongering tactic that some Christians, sadly, are all too good at. In fact, whenever you hear a Christian leader using fear to motivate you (to obey, give money, or whatever), see it for the ruse it is.

Since becoming a Christian in the late 1970’s, I have witnessed frequent predictions of the end. It was going to be 1983 when the planets aligned. No, it’s 1988 when Israel has been a nation for a generation. Wrong again. And on and on it goes.

Untold Harm

The false predictions have caused untold harm to precious people. Individuals had maxed out their credit cards, believing the rapture would come before payment was due. Others sold houses, spent all their money, or resigned from jobs. Some failed to plan for education, convinced the end was near. I didn’t buy a house in my late teens and 20’s (against my dad’s advice) because Jesus was coming back. That is one of my few regrets even to this day.

Wrong predictions cause people to harden their hearts to the truth of God’s Word, just like those who heard the boy cry “Wolf!” I believe that Jesus is coming back but making endless predictions is pointless and counterproductive to the gospel.

So, What is the Rapture?

Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonian church present the most detailed description of what should be called the resurrection. The term “rapture” is not a Bible word.

Paul writes, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (4:16-18).

Notice the order of events:

  • Jesus comes down from heaven.
  • The departed “in Christ” rise first.
  • The living will rise to meet Jesus.

The word “meet” infers “to escort on a journey.” Followers of Jesus will be gathered from the grave and the four corners of the earth to one point ~ where Jesus is, “And so, we will be with the Lord forever.” Paul tells us to “encourage one another with these words,” not scare the living daylights out of each other.

Until we Meet Again!

Until Christ’s Second Coming, the world will continue as it is. Society will progress as it has for thousands of years. Life will be a mixture of good & bad. As Jesus taught, there’ll be wars and rumours of wars and natural disasters in various places, and the gospel of the kingdom will be preached everywhere.

It’s interesting to note that the vast majority of Bible prophecies concerning the end of the world deal with how we are to live in the here and now. The Bible teaches that the world will end one day, so we must live pure and productive lives in the present.

In the meantime, share the GOOD NEWS about Jesus with people open to hearing it; live authentic and consistent lives that make this world better; love your neighbour and your enemies. Resist getting sucked into these baseless and pointless predictions and look for the actual Christ, not the anti-one!

One of the good things about a crisis is it often provokes people to read the Bible and pray. The global pandemic certainly has achieved this. It’s been a motivator for people to read Revelation. But as one of the Bible’s more mysterious books, it is often misunderstood and mishandled.

My Early Christian Years

I’ve watched Revelation being mishandled for decades. I had my first encounter with Christianity in the late 70s. Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was all the rage. The planets would align in 1982, starting the Great Tribulation. Cataclysmic events would unfold upon the earth, and Jesus would return in 1988. Oh, and the Pope was the antichrist because he had 666 written under his cap. I kid you not, someone told me this in all seriousness, and I believed them!

None of it was true. None of it happened, just like all the other predictions over the centuries from mishandling Revelation.

I now know better.

A Little History

The book of Revelation was (reluctantly) admitted into the Canon of Scripture in 395 CE. It was the last book to be incorporated into the New Testament.

The Western Church wanted Revelation included but didn’t appreciate Hebrews. The Eastern church didn’t like Revelation (and still don’t use it in their services), but they wanted Hebrews included in the Canon. So, the compromise was to have both books in the Bible.

The Nicene Creed

By 395 CE, the church’s doctrine was well and truly completed and stated in the Nicene Creed (325). The Nicene Creed contains everything the early church believed about the future:

[Jesus] will come again with glory

to judge the living and the dead.

His kingdom will never end.

We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,

and to life in the world to come. Amen.

These statements form a summary of eschatology (doctrine of last things) and comprise everything Christians have ever believed about the end of this age:

Nothing to Fear

Notice the line “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” In other words, the future is not something to fear. The apostle John put it this way, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world, we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:17-18).

And so, according to the church’s greatest creed, the future is not something to fear. It’s something to look forward to. Contrast that to an interpretation of Revelation that does nothing but inject fear:

  • Fear of antichrist and one-world government
  • Fear of the Mark of the Beast
  • Fear of the great tribulation
  • Fear of the most dreadful afflictions rained upon the earth
  • Fear of beasts, dragons, harlots, & birds feasting on human flesh
  • Fear of Armageddon
  • Fear of a lake of burning sulphur
  • Fear of a sneaky rapture where you could be left behind

Left Behind

One of the most popular Christian songs of the 1970s was Larry Norman’s “I wish we’d all been ready.” The song included the line, “There’s no time to change your mind, the son has come, and you’ve been left behind.” It was a great song, but the theology was awful.

Some particularly full-on (read, obnoxious) Christians at the time would ask other Christians, “are you rapture saved?” It was a weird question that basically asked if you, as a Jesus follower, were saved enough to be taken up in the air when Jesus returned. Again, awful theology!

One Saturday, I finished my shift on the radio and headed back home to the farmhouse I was living in at the time. I walked into the house. There were pots of food bubbling away on the stove, and two chairs were pulled out from the table and facing each other. It was as if two people had been removed (raptured) from the room. I was terrified. I’d been left behind.

Shortly afterwards, my housemate walked back into the room with another friend. I was so relieved.

Left Behind was the title of a series of novels in the 1990s and early 2000s. Some of these were made into movies starring Kirk Cameron and Nicholas Cage. They are terrible films, having attracted the lowest audience score of all time on Rotten Tomatoes (3%). Sadly, many Christians base their understanding of Revelation on the Left Behind series. These books are novels, not Bible commentaries!

A Solid Foundation

Fearmongering might be a good money-spinner, but we must not base our beliefs on these fads. Our faith must rest solid and secure on the truth as it is stated by the great creeds of the church:

[Jesus] will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.

And so, when the book of Revelation was finally included in the Bible, it could not add to the doctrine as stated by the Nicene Creed. The church’s essential beliefs had been fully expressed by 325 CE, seventy years before Revelation was accepted into the New Testament (395).

Revelation was not to be used to add anything to eschatology. In fact, it was expressly stated that Revelation was not to be used to foretell the future (how ironic!)

Handle with Care

Revelation’s two main uses were/are as:

(1) A call to Worship (the Lamb upon the throne) and,

(2) A call to faithfulness (in the face of persecution and hardship).

The book of Revelation is jam-packed full of marvellous truth that applies to today. When we remove our fixation with the so-called “end times” and cease to use Revelation to predict the future or read interpretations into it from the daily newspaper, we free Revelation up to be the inspiration it was designed to be.

Revelation was written initially to seven churches that existed in the first century. But as part of inspired scripture, this book is written to every church and every disciple of Jesus. I hope you will handle it with care and not give in to the wild speculation and conspiracies that I fell for in my early Christian years.

For further study, listen to two podcast discussions between Shane Willard and myself (Rob):

Understanding Revelation 1

Understanding Revelation 2

It’s been fascinating to see the hashtag “rapture anxiety” trend this year on Twitter. And no surprises with all the news that has been tied in with so-called Bible prophecy. Consider the Middle East peace deals with Israel, the US embassy moving to Jerusalem, a 27% increase in natural disasters including wildfires, floods, and earthquakes. Oh, and a global pandemic.

Many people have turned to prayer and the Bible for answers (which is terrific). There’s been a renewed interest in Revelation and the futurist interpretation proclaimed by the contemporary church and made famous by the Left Behind series of books. The futurists focus on the Great Tribulation, antichrist, a rebuilt Jerusalem temple, a peace deal, and the rapture. This reading of Scripture, a view I used to hold to but no longer, causes anxiety in many. Hence the hashtag.

#RaptureAnxiety

Consider one young mum who wrote to me this week because she was feeling confused and fearful. “I have a young family with a little 2-year-old boy, and I’m worried I won’t see him grow up. I know everyone is going through this, and there are a lot of people scared as I am.” She continued, “To be honest, I didn’t want to read Revelation at the moment with my mental state. That’s why I have been asking a lot of questions to a few people. I believe [the Bible] should not be used as a tool of fear, and I really don’t know what to believe that I keep looking for answers and continue to be more scared than ever.”

I responded, “One of the reasons I’ve been so vocal about the false “end times” doctrine that is spread by many evangelical and Pentecostal churches is the abject fear it causes many people. The world will always hold a mixture of good and evil. The Gospel is good news, though. I would encourage you to stay away from articles and sermons that cause you to fear. Place your faith securely in Jesus and allow yourself to be loved by Him.”

I feel deeply for this young mum and the many others who are anxious and traumatised by an erroneous understanding of the Bible. “#RaptureAnxiety, like #ChurchToo (by which people shared stories of sexual harassment at church) and #EmptythePews (which critiqued hypocrisy in the evangelical community) before it, seeks to amplify the voices of those affected by the waves rocking the evangelical community.”

What the Rapture Isn’t

So, what is this “Rapture” all about? The popular view is it’s a time when believing Christians will be suddenly and unexpectedly caught up to heaven before the events that herald the end of the world. In most accounts of the rapture, believers go straight to heaven, while nonbelievers are left behind to undergo a period of great tribulation (political chaos and personal torment).

The rapture was one of the first things I heard about when I became a Christian in 1977. Jesus was returning in the 80s; the planets would align, causing cataclysmic events on earth. The antichrist was already in the world, and everyone’s eyes were on Israel and the Middle East. What happened? Nothing! And that’s the point! Doomsday prognosticators have existed for centuries, and not one of them has been right.

All of these false predictions have caused untold harm to precious people. Individuals had maxed out their credit cards, believing that the rapture would come before payment was due. Others sold houses, spent all their money, or resigned from jobs. Some failed to plan for an education convinced the end was near. I didn’t buy a house in my late teens and 20s (against the advice of my dad) because Jesus was coming back. That is one of my few regrets even to this day.

The Futurist Error

While early Christianity was intensely focused on Christ’s Second Coming, the “end times” theology as we know it today is relatively recent. While futurism appeared for a brief time in the Christian church’s early centuries, the view was not popular. During the Middle Ages and before the Protestant Reformation, futurist interpretations were virtually non-existent. Two Catholic Jesuit writers in the 16th and 18th centuries proposed the futurist view. Futurism became popular among the Puritan preachers in the 18th century and has grown in popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries so that today it is probably the most readily recognised. 

So, what does the Bible say about the rapture, and should it cause anxiety? Firstly, the Bible doesn’t use the word “rapture” anywhere. The Bible’s word is resurrection. In my early days as a Christian, Matthew 24:40-41 was the go-too passage proving the rapture: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken, and the other left.” These verses were the inspiration for the popular Christian song, I wish we’d all been ready.

No doubt this song scared a lot of people into the Kingdom of God and caused a lot of #RaptureAnxiety.

But Jesus is not speaking here about a rapture. The context is “readiness and alertness.” Some will be ready for Jesus’ return while others, as they were in the days of Noah, will be blissfully unaware. One will be taken (taken by surprise; taken in judgment) while the other one will be left. The person you want to be is the one who is left, not the one taken! Paul reinforces this point in his first letter to the Thessalonian believers, “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief” (5:4).

What the Rapture is

Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonian church present the most detailed description of the rapture/Second Coming of Jesus in the Bible: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (4:16-18).

Notice the order of events:

  1. Jesus comes down from heaven
  2. Deceased Christians rise to meet him
  3. Living Christians rise to meet him

The word “Meet” means to “escort of a journey.” Followers of Jesus will be gathered from the grave and the four corners of the earth to one point ~ where Jesus is. We will then all descend with Jesus to earth, “And so, we will be with the Lord forever.” No antichrist. No great tribulation. No peace deal with Israel. No cashless society or mark of the beast. No one-world government. No, #RaptureAnxiety. In fact, Paul tells us to “encourage one another with these words” not scare the living daylights out of each other.

Until Christ’s Second Coming, the world will continue as it is. Society will progress as it has for thousands of years. Life will be a mixture of good & bad. As Jesus taught, there’ll be wars and rumours of wars and natural disasters in various places. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

So, should the rapture cause anxiety? Not at all. It’s a day to look forward to as we will ever be with the Lord we love and who loves us. In the meantime, live a life that makes this world a better place, and demonstrate God’s love to others as you have the opportunity. Because He loves them too!

 

For further study: Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 John 4:17-19

The first thing I read from the Bible today was this verse: “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). It was timely for me to read this as Paul infers that there is an incorrect way to explain Scripture. This leads me to a question I was asked yesterday:

“Hi Pastor Rob, Gary Ablett Snr has posted a half-hour video on end times. He may be a bit off track with some of his views. I would be interested in your thoughts.” So, here are my thoughts.

Firstly, Gary was a fantastic footballer! Probably one of the greatest AFL players of all time. He is a four-time All-Australian and three-time Coleman Medallist. He was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame and was named in the AFL Team of the Century.

Now, I know a few things about football, and I could go on the Internet and find out more. But I would not upload a 27-minute video of me talking about footy. I’d leave that to Gary. But these days, every man and his dog can talk about the Bible, whether they’re qualified or not. They’ve done the research (read, google-search) and, as Gary says, “I haven’t said anything that I can’t back up with solid evidence.” The “solid evidence” turns out to be three messages from NZ evangelist, Barry Smith, who passed away in 2002.

In the 27-minute video titled What’s really going on and who’s behind it all,” Gary says, “I’ve studied a lot of end times Bible prophecy, and it’s all happening right now.” He talks about the Illuminati takeover of the world, a New World Order and the antichrist, and his belief that COVID-19 is human-made. My intentions for writing this blog are not to criticise Gary Ablett. He is my brother in Christ, and I don’t doubt his sincerity. But I believe he is sincerely wrong. So, let’s take a look at what the Bible says about these things as I seek to be one who “correctly explains the word of truth.”

End Times

The “end times” are frequently spoken of in evangelical/Pentecostal churches, but this expression is not found in the Bible. The Bible does talk about the last days, however: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:15). These words were quoted from the prophet Joel by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost in AD 30. So, the last days began approximately 1,990 years ago. The writer of Hebrews says the last days began with Jesus (Hebrews 1:2). Are we living in the last days? Yes, we have been for quite a while!

Sadly, much of what has been taught about the so-called end times is frankly wrong. The foundation for “modern” Bible prophecy interpretation was laid in the 1800s by John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren. The 1909 publication of the Scofield Reference Bible caused Darby’s views to go mainstream.

John Nelson Darby became the Plymouth Brethren’s dominant personality but, in 1845, disputes over doctrine split the Brethren. Darby’s followers formed a closely-knit federation of churches and were known as Exclusive Brethren. This cult still exists today, although it has suffered further splits over the years. The “prince of preachers,” Charles Spurgeon, also claimed Darby’s teachings to be false. And so, much of the modern understanding of Bible prophecy originated from a heretical cult leader. These false interpretations of Scripture were then popularised by books and movies (like the Left Behind series) and perpetrated by many preachers.

The Illuminati

The Illuminati was founded in Bavaria on May 1, 1776. However, unlike Gary Ablett’s claims, they were not dedicated to global domination. Its purpose was to discuss what was at the time dangerously radical ideas (secularism and women’s rights). Carl Theodore, the Duke of Bavaria, banned the group in the summer of 1784, and three years later, the society was no more. Now, if you go online, you’ll find that you can join the Illuminati. There’s an address in Nigeria, and they want your money! Other than that, the Illuminati only exist in the minds of conspiracy Christians.

New World Order

Gary Ablett spoke of the “New world order” “so they can put Lucifer on the throne of the world.” The Bible doesn’t mention a new world order either by word or concept. It’s just not there!

In fact, the only thing that comes close to a new order is found in Hebrews 9:10: “They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.” Hebrews is a beautiful reflection on the Old and New Covenants (Testaments) and why the “New” is better than the “Old.” In chapter nine, the author compares the Old Covenant worship practices of animal sacrifice, various gifts & ceremonial washings with the New Covenant based on the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus ushered in a new order of worship. At the end of this age, God will create a new heaven and a new earth and lead us into a new era (Revelation 21-22; Mark 10:30).

Antichrist

Many Christians believe in the arrival of a man who will lead a one-world government that brings in the “New world order.” I wrote about this fictional character in a blog recently, so I won’t say too much here.

In short, anyone who opposes Christ is the antichrist. But these people are not the same as the Beast of Revelation 13, who is often mistakenly called the antichrist. The Beast is not a person – people rarely crawl out of the sea sporting seven heads with ten horns! The Beast is the Roman Empire of the first century which, amongst other things, persecuted God’s people, especially during the reign of Nero. Nero Caesar’s name has a numeric value of 666. It could be said that any world system that stands opposed to, and persecutes, followers of Jesus is an antichrist system. But a man who will lead a one-world government is a mythical figure and the figment of an overly fertile imagination!

COVID-19 manufactured

Gary Ablett says COVID-19 is Human-made and deliberately released to crash the global economy, introduce a cashless society, Mark of the Beast, WW3, and reduce the population to 500,000. Apparently, it will be easier for the Illuminati to control half a million people rather than 7.7 billion!

This conspiracy theory first surfaced in March, stating that COVID-19 was made by scientists and had escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. On April 16, the U.S. government said it was investigating this possibility. A group of researchers compared the genome of this novel coronavirus with the seven other coronaviruses known to infect humans: “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.”

But why let the facts stand in the way of a good conspiracy!

Gary makes many other claims in his video:

Antichrist will make a seven-year peace treaty with Israel and the Arabic nations.

The Jews will rebuild their temple.

The antichrist will set up his image in the temple.

A global economy and cashless society are coming and will be controlled by the Illuminati.

These things have NO FOUNDATION IN SCRIPTURE!

Gary Ablett and I find strong agreement with his love for Jesus and looking forward to his return. Like Gary, I want to see people discover God’s love for them and the forgiveness and freedom that Jesus gives. But scaring people with baseless claims that vaccines will kill us and change our DNA forever (what both?) is not the Christian way.

Thanks to Doctor Google, everyone can know everything about everything. Everyone can be an expert! It’s really quite simple:

  1. Choose a topic
  2. Do a Google search
  3. Choose one or two of the 442 million results that pop up in a few seconds
  4. Ignore the others, especially the ones that disagree with you
  5. Share expert advice on your social media platforms so others can share your research without checking the facts.

This happens millions of times every day. Some of these things end up in my Messenger Inbox.

For example, a friend recently sent me a clip from Sky News commentator, Rowan Dean. There was no message. No context. Just a clip. So, I watched it and wasn’t surprised. Sky News leans Right, but their news opinion segments are partisan Right. So, you wouldn’t put much credibility in Sky unless you wanted a far-right bent that agreed with your own bias.

In this clip, Rowan Dean waxed eloquently for seven minutes about how Sweden “got it right,” while other countries, including Australia, got it very wrong. I don’t know Rowan Dean. I do know that he’s an advertising executive. I don’t think he’s medically trained. Still, he seemed confident that Sweden got it right by not embracing the harsh lockdown measures adopted by other countries. To back up his opinion, he quoted several sources, all of them right-biased:

  • The UK Telegraph has a mixture of factual and non-factual reporting. It sometimes publishes misleading reports and omits to report information that may damage conservative causes.
  • The Spectator Australia: Rowan Dean is the editor (no conflict of interest there)
  • The Daily Mail: scores “Low” on factual reporting and shows extreme right-bias, poor sourcing to credible information, and is prone to conspiracies and fake news.

Quoting any of these sources is like me saying, “It’s true. I read it in the Herald Sun.” Understand that algorithms will feed you content that is similar to what you’ve already read when you search on the Internet.

The danger here is that you can think the whole world agrees with you. To counter this, you must glean information from a wide range of credible references.

I responded to my friend, “It’s still way too early to tell whether Sweden got it right or not. The Spanish Flu came in three waves as the virus mutated. Wave Two killed most people. COVID-19 is a new virus in human beings. Medical professionals are still working out what it’s like, how to respond to it, and so on. Rowan Dean is an advertising executive, not a medically trained person. He would do well to learn from history and delay his judgments. That’s, of course, if he wants to learn from history!”

Balance the Information

In the second part of the clip, Dean discussed hydroxychloroquine, which, he says, was used by Switzerland with significant effect against COVID-19, then banned because of a negative report in The Lancet medical journal. The Lancet later retracted the article, and Switzerland started using hydroxychloroquine again.

It should be appreciated that The Lancet retracted the article because they wanted to independently review the original research. But, because of client confidentiality, the researchers refused to share their data. For this reason, The Lancet retracted the article, not because the research was wrong.

Further research has been conducted. The Lancet has now republished the study adding, “Several arguments support the hypothesis that hydroxychloroquine, in addition to having no beneficial effect in hospitalised patients with COVID-19, might have potentially fatal cardiac effects.”

This week, The Lancet published another study which, to their knowledge, is “the largest ever analysis of the safety of hydroxychloroquine and hydroxychloroquine plus azithromycin worldwide.”  Their conclusion: “Although long-term treatment with hydroxychloroquine is not expected for the management of COVID-19, some research suggests that the higher doses prescribed for COVID-19 than for rheumatoid arthritis can, even in the short term, lead to equivalent side-effects given the long half-life of hydroxychloroquine.” Those side-effects include increased risk of chest pain, angina, and heart failure. Armed with credible, evidence-based, peer-reviewed research, countries and states can make informed decisions whether or not to include this drug as part of the treatment for COVID-19.

To my previous message, my friend responded, “How about the hydroxy chloroquine [sic.] it has been unjustly vilified!” I replied, “I’m not medically trained. I don’t know if it’s been unjustly vilified or not. Donald Trump is not medically trained either, and I believe he has been irresponsible in his endorsement of this drug. I do know that one of the downsides of all this publicity is that hydroxychloroquine has become in very short supply. I recently saw an interview with a lady who has lupus, and she said she hasn’t been able to get her regular hydroxychloroquine prescription. What a tragedy. I wonder how many other people have been adversely affected? I am concerned that so many lies are being spread by so-called Christians. I think, “Thou shalt not lie” is still a commandment??”

A trap for people on the far-right is a propensity to fall for conspiracy theories. Conservative Christians often fall for these due to a belief in a coming one-world government and the antichrist. And so, COVID-19 becomes this evil plan instituted by a cabal to derail countries, a plot to destroy businesses, and remove freedoms. And “they” are trying to cover all this up. “They” know that hydroxychloroquine really works against “their” man-made virus, but “they” don’t want you to take it and get better. Not only that, Bill Gates already has the vaccine and wants to inject it into you along with a microchip so you can be tracked. To be clear, the technology to track people via vaccine microchip doesn’t yet exist. A chip would need to be injected (one that can send and receive information), a battery would have to be inserted too. What size of a hypodermic needle would you need for that? And how would Bill Gates co-opt every doctor, nurse, and medical professional around the world to buy into this scheme?

This kind of fear-mongering is not worthy of those who follow Jesus. We are called to be people of truth, not conspiracies and lies. I thank God for medical professionals who, out of their love for humanity, give their lives to health and healing. What we need is not guess-work from politicians or armchair “experts.” Your Google search is not research. It doesn’t compare to someone’s Master’s degree or Doctorate. And it doesn’t make you an expert!

In last week’s blog, “Should the church defy the Government?” I wrote the following: “It’s my opinion that the “evangelist” who wrote to me recently misses the point. It appears he’s bought into fear and conspiracies about a one-world government and an antichrist agenda. While these beliefs are widely held by many Christians today, they are based more on the Left Behind novels than on God’s Word. I’ll explore that in next week’s blog!” Well, here’s next week’s blog!

End-Time Predictions

When I became a Christian in the late 70s, end-time prophecy was all abuzz. Israel had become a nation in 1948, and according to a misinterpretation of Matthew 24:32-34, Jesus’ Second Coming would happen within one generation (40 years). That meant Jesus would be back by 1988. I thought I’d hit the jackpot becoming a Christian just in time. I devoured Revelation and Daniel, The Late Great Planet Earth, and all the prophecy books around. The planets would align on March 10, 1982, causing earthquakes, tidal waves, and violent storms that would lead to a natural disaster takeover by world governments. These events would see the rise of the antichrist and a one-world government, the Great Tribulation, and the return of Jesus. Nothing happened!

I have since learned that this is just one of many false prophecies of the end. Individuals and religious groups have been forecasting the end of the world for centuries. They really should give up. There’s no future in it!

In the forty years since my conversion, I’ve come to realise the interpretation of Scriptures relating to the antichrist, one-world government, and the rapture are often misunderstood or misinterpreted. The vast majority of evangelical and Pentecostal Christians hold beliefs about these things based more on the Left Behind books and movies than Scripture. That, my friends, is not a good way to study the Bible.

A Shaky Foundation

Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins wrote the 16 Left Behind books between 1995 and 2007 and sold 80 million copies. The books are based on a dispensationalist interpretation of Bible prophecy, a relatively modern invention developed in 1827 by John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren, and spread widely with the 1909 publication of the Scofield Reference Bible. Darby went on to be the founder of the Exclusive Brethren cult after George Mueller (and other Brethren) challenged him about some of his unbiblical doctrines. Charles Spurgeon also claimed these teachings were false. And so, much modern understanding of Bible prophecy originated from a heretical cult leader and popularised by books and movies. This is hardly a good foundation for understanding God’s Word!

Who is the Antichrist?

So, what about the antichrist and one-world government? Let’s explore antichrist first. There are four references to the antichrist in the Bible, and they are all found in John’s letters:

“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). John continues by explaining what he means by antichrist, “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). The antichrist(s) was already in the world of John’s day (1 John 4:3), and was not some figure who would appear two thousand years later. The antichrist was any person who did “not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 1:7).

1 John was written to encourage Christians who had been expelled from synagogues for their faith in Jesus; the Messiah. The synagogue was the heart of the community and so to be excluded was a terrible punishment. Because of this, some Christians had denied Jesus’ messiahship so they could be welcomed back by family and friends. John reminds Jesus’ followers that such people have left the church and “have gone out into the world.” By their actions and their words, they are antichristos (one who opposes Christ).

Anyone who opposes Christ is the antichrist. But these people have nothing to do with the Beast in Revelation 13 who is often, mistakenly, called the antichrist. The Beast is not a person – people rarely crawl out of the sea sporting seven heads with ten horns! The Beast is the Roman Empire, which, amongst other things, persecuted God’s people, especially during the reign of Nero. Nero Caesar’s name has a numeric value of 666. It could be said that any world system that stands opposed to, and persecutes, followers of Jesus is an antichrist system.

One-World Government

As for a one-world government and currency, the Bible is entirely silent. Sometimes Daniel’s prophecies, as well as some chapters in Revelation, are interpreted that way. These interpretations buy into Darby’s dispensationalism, which misinterprets Bible prophecy. In Daniel chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. In this dream, God reveals the kingdoms that will follow Babylon – Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. These same four empires are also outlined in Daniel’s vision recorded in Daniel 7.

Dispensationalists insert a time gap (dispensation) between the fourth kingdom – Rome – and the end times before the Second Coming of Jesus. They say there will be a revived Roman Empire in the last days, and the antichrist will rise up to rule it. The European Common Market (now the European Economic Community or EEC) was said to be the Beast’s kingdom’s forerunner. As mentioned before, this is not sound Biblical interpretation.

Daniel 2 tells us, “in the time of those kings [of the fourth kingdom], the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (44). During the reign of the Roman Caesars, God would set up His eternal kingdom, the kingdom of God, or, of heaven. God did this through Jesus Christ who taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God is not a geographical location. It’s wherever God rules in the hearts of people. As this rule is extended, the world becomes a better place, and that’s precisely what we’ve been witnessing for two millennia. The world is better than it was, but not as good as it will be.

The Sign of the End

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Personally, I’m not looking for an antichrist, although there have been and will be many who oppose Jesus. I’m not waiting for a one-world government, a great tribulation, or a cashless society. There will continue to be wars and rumours of wars, famines, pandemics, and earthquakes. Christians, and people of other faiths, will face persecution. But the end won’t come until every ethnic group has an understandable presentation of the good news about Jesus. At that time, Jesus will return, and his people will gather to him.

“According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:15018).

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Online posts about the current crisis being a forerunner to the Mark of the Beast are rampant. In fact, you could say they’re going viral! In general, they go something like this:

Lockdowns around the world will be lifted but only for those immune to the coronavirus. You will have to be tested to see if you’ve had the disease or be given a vaccine. Once that’s happened, you’ll be issued a certificate, identity card, or tattoo. To travel and work freely, you’ll have to show this proof that you’re not infectious. In this way, millions will be tricked into receiving some kind of Mark. Could this be the “Mark of the Beast”?

Pastor Ronnie Hampton of the New Vision Community Church in Shreveport, Louisiana put it this way: “They’re gonna come up with a vaccine and in that vaccine everybody is gonna have to take it … and inside of that vaccine there’s going to be some type of electronic computer device that’s gonna put some type of chip in you and maybe even have some mood, mind-altering circumstances. And they’re saying that the chip would be the Mark of the Beast.”  Pastor Hampton, who scorned COVID-19 as a conspiracy, passed away from the virus in late March.

Diving into Revelation

So, what is this mysterious ‘Mark’ and number that we read about in Revelation?

“It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666” (Revelation 13:16-18).

It’s important to remember that John wrote Revelation to seven churches in the First Century. When John told THEM to“calculate the number of the beast” to discover his identity, he wasn’t teasing them to try and recognise someone who wouldn’t exist for two thousand years. He was writing about a well-known code of the day (gematria) that his readers would understand.

Bible scholars are divided on the date Revelation was written. Some prefer earlier writing around the mid-60s, while others favour a later date in the 90s. Either of these dates work well for John’s wise and insightful readers to “solve the meaning of the number of the beast” (NLT).

Unpacking 666 & Mark

The 60s: Nero Caesar (a Greek form of Nero’s name, when rendered into Hebrew, gives a combined value of 666).

The 90s: Domitian Caesar (Greek title: A KAI ΔOMET ΣEB ΓE and the gematrical formula reads A. K A I. Δ O M E T. Σ E B. Γ E. 1+ 20+1+10+4+70+40+5+300+200+5+2+ 3+5 = 666). Domitian earned the nickname “the Beast” amongst Romans, Greeks, Christians, and Jews because of his cruelty and executions during his reign of terror.

What was the Mark without which no one could buy or sell? John tells us it was “the name of the beast or the number of its name.” The term “mark” (Greek, charagma) was most commonly used for imprints on documents or coins. Charagma was also an imperial seal of the Roman Empire used on official documents during the first and second centuries (see reference).

It is likely then that the Mark was Nero’s (or Domitian’s) inscription on Roman currency, without which one could not buy or sell. Loyal Romans would wear coins on the back of their right hand or on their forehead as a show of allegiance to the Emperor.

New Testament scholar Craig C. Hill notes, “the Mark symbolizes the all-embracing economic power of Rome, whose very coinage bore the Emperor’s image and conveyed his claims to divinity. It had become increasingly difficult for Christians to function in a world in which public life, including the economic life of the trade guilds, required participation in idolatry.” In 66AD, the Jews revolted against Rome and coined their own money. Before this, money changers at the Jerusalem temple would exchange coins with the Emperor’s Mark with Temple coins so that no graven image could enter the Temple and defile it.

An alternative interpretation of Revelation 13:18 refers to the number of the beast as “humanity’s number”. In Bible numerics, seven is the number of perfection and is attributed to God. Humanity’s number is six, one less than seven because everyone falls short of perfection (Romans 3:23).

Where Should Our Focus Be?

Christians today should be careful not to be caught up in “foolish controversies … because these are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9). We are called to be discerning of the times in which we live, but that is so our lives will be productive and pure, not wasting time on wild speculation.

Let us do good, make the world a better place, and share the good news of the Christian gospel. Let’s be looking for the real Christ, not the anti-one!

 

For other related blogs, have a read:

Every time there’s a crisis you’ll find well-meaning Christians attempting to link it to a Bible verse (carefully plucked out of context, of course), and the end of the world. The current crisis with Covid-19 is no exception.

Someone contacted me on Messenger last week suggesting that, because Corona means “crown” (which it does in Latin), it refers to the first of the horsemen of the Apocalypse. The horseman was given a crown and sent out to conquer. The four horsemen “were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth” (Rev 6:8).

God’s Judgement

Isaiah 26:20 is doing the rounds at present, “Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by.” The inference by those who quote this verse is that Covid-19 is an outpouring of God’s anger on sinners. But hang on, I thought Jesus settled that on the cross. Never mind that. The verse seems to fit, so let’s use it, right?

Then there’s Luke 21:11, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” You might like to check out Jeremiah 29:17 and Ezekiel 5:12 as two more examples of verses being linked to Coronavirus. And then there’s my favourite, James 4:8, “Wash your hands, you sinners.”

Needless to say, there are some Christians who delight in every catastrophe, crisis, and calamity that befalls humankind. And they are ready with their proof text taken out of context.

End Time Predictions Nothing New

Doomsday prognostications are nothing new. Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage (a city in Tunisia), described the epidemic of 250-271 as signalling the end of the world. The Plague of Cyprian, as it came to be called, is estimated to have killed 5,000 people a day in Rome alone.

Humanity has been fascinated with the end of the world since its beginning. The oldest surviving prediction of the world’s imminent demise was found inscribed upon an Assyrian clay tablet, which stated: “Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common.” (Ref:  Book of Facts by Isaac Asimov).  This could have been written yesterday, but it comes from 2,800 BC.

In the year 1666, a date containing the figures commonly accepted as the biblical Number of the Beast and following a protracted period of plague in England, it was little surprise that many should believe the Great Fire of London to be a herald of the last days. In 1794, Charles Wesley, the founder of Methodism, maintained that the world would come to an end that year. Notwithstanding his brother’s erroneous estimate, the Methodist leader John Wesley expected the End Times to commence in 1836, with the appearance of the Great Beast of Revelation. The 17th and 18th centuries were a time of protracted pandemics, which no doubt led these great men to arrive at their erroneous conclusion.

When I became a Christian in the late 70s, all Christians were abuzz with the world ending in 1982, when the planets lined up and created magnetic forces that would bring Armageddon to the earth. I was swept up in this, too, spending time reading Revelation, Bible prophecy, and books like “The Late Great Planet Earth.” We were wrong!

There were other books like “88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988” by Edgar Whisenant, who was quoted as saying, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong!” Whoops! He blamed the calendar and God for his false predictions! Whisenant also predicted the end of the world for 1993, 1994, and 1997. Then he gave up predicting – there was no future in it!

But still, some Christians persist with making predictions of doom for the planet’s end, and the current crisis is no exception. The danger here is that we’ve cried wolf too many times. People have become hardened to a message they actually need to take seriously. The Gospel of Jesus gets drowned out by all this pseudo-prophetic mumbo jumbo. People need to hear the good news, but it gets obscured by a pop-theology based more on books and movies than on God’s Word.

Effects of The Fall

The world has experienced pandemics, epidemics, and plagues for thousands of years. They are, sadly, part of the human experience. Christians refer to this as “The Fall”, the belief that God’s creation is in a flawed state because of human sin. Throughout history, nothing has killed more people than infectious diseases (many times more than war or natural disasters). Even though significant medical advances have been made, especially in the past century, the current Covid-19 crisis shows how vulnerable, fragile, and mortal we really are.  (See article)

A Sign of the End?

The question remains is Covid-19 a sign of the end of the world? Ed Jarrett from Christianity.com says there is very little evidence to support the claim COVID-19 is biblical. He said: “History is replete with plagues, wars, and natural disasters that kill large numbers of people. But none of these has been a sign of the end.” I agree.

It’s interesting to note that the Bible doesn’t once mention the “end of the world”. It declares “the end of the age” (Gk. aion; English: eon). At the end of this age, Christians believe Jesus will return to establish his kingdom, which will usher in the next era. The vast majority of Bible prophecies concerning the end of this age deal with how we are to live in the present time.

And so, share the GOOD NEWS about Jesus with people who are open to hearing it; live a genuine, consistent, and productive life that makes this world a better place, love your neighbour as yourself, and wash your hands! Resist getting sucked into baseless and pointless predictions, and look for the real Christ, not the anti-one!

While Covid-19 is probably not the end of the world, it will take the world to end it!

In all my life, I haven’t seen anything like what we’re currently watching unfold around the world. The spread of Covid-19 (the Coronavirus) is evolving moment by moment, and every nation is responding in the way they deem necessary.

In Australia, gatherings of more than 100 people are now banned, and so many churches (including Bayside Church) are ceasing their weekly meetings and opting for online options and small groups. This is likely to be the case for at least six months, maybe longer!

Of course, this is not the first time the world has faced a pandemic. 36 million people died from HIV/AIDS, which was first identified in 1976. In 1918, 500 million people were infected with the Spanish flu, with up to 50 million causalities. Before that, you have to go way back to 1346 when 200 million people died from the Bubonic Plague.

But this is the first time in our lifetime that we have seen a global pandemic with such far-reaching consequences. So, what does the Bible say about the Coronavirus? There are several things …

This Is Not Revelation 13

Coronavirus is not the end of the world, it’s got nothing to do with an antichrist or the Mark of the Beast. I know some Christians will be very disappointed by this. I’ve met people who relish disasters because they somehow (in their mind) fulfil end time Bible prophecy. And this is not a new phenomenon. While the Black Plague ravaged Europe in the 1300s, people became convinced that their Jewish neighbours were secretly poisoning Christians’ wells. Conspiracy theories about Covid-19 range from believing the disease is a bioweapon to the result of eating bat soup. No, the Coronavirus has nothing to do with Revelation 13.

It Probably Has More to Do with Leviticus 13

According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, medicine and religion were closely connected for Jews in ancient times. Priests were “the custodians of public health,” and Jews in biblical times regarded the physician as “the instrument through whom God could affect the cure.” This is the picture we see in Leviticus 13, which, although it may sound somewhat elementary to our ears, was very progressive for its time (around 1500 years before Jesus).

According to Leviticus 13:21, the priest was to inspect someone who had a disease and could “isolate the affected person for seven days.”  He would then re-examine them and could “isolate them for another seven days.” Fourteen days! Sound familiar? The diseased person “must live alone; they must live outside the camp.” And if they did walk around, they had to “wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” By the way, my favourite verse from Leviticus 13 is verse 40, “A man who has lost his hair and is bald is clean.” Amen!

So, Coronavirus isn’t about Revelation 13. It has more to do with Leviticus 13. So:

Act According to 1 Corinthians 13

Consider, a few weeks ago, Aussies (and others) were demonstrating a whole lot of love. We were buying goods to be sent to areas ravaged by bushfires, we were donating money and putting others first. But not anymore. Now we’re emptying supermarket shelves, stockpiling rice and pasta, and fighting over toilet rolls. In a few weeks, we’ve seen the very best and the very worst of humanity. What we need is more of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails

Now, there’s some truth to live by.

Coronavirus isn’t about Revelation 13, it’s more like Leviticus 13. So, let’s act according to 1 Corinthians 13 until Romans 13 runs its course.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.”

Now, I know these verses have been and can be abused. I’ve written about this elsewhere in a blog Are All Governments Established by God?, but now would be a great time to listen to our leaders and put into practice their directions, for the common good. I encourage you to pray for all who are in authority and everyone who is unwell. Pray for our health and medical practitioners as well as emergency services. Look out for the most vulnerable, and stay connected as much as you can. Love courageously and be like Jesus to those around you.

 

Read Rob’s other blogs on the Bible and Covid-19: