[I wrote this article a few years ago and I am re-posting it for our members. The turmoil in financial markets, weird weather and other environmental events serve to stoke the fire of anxiety and stimulate an increased appetite for end-times musings. It is important that we keep our eyes focused on Jesus and the faithfulness and goodness of God. As leaders we need to help those we lead focus on the light and not the darkness.]
Time Magazine, January 17, 2008 issue, ran an article on the growing cultural appetite for what they call Apocalypse themed books and media. The article defines apocalypse as end of the world, 'destruction of all things' types of material. These range from recent best sellers list The Road (McCarthy) and the World Without Us (Weissman) to popular television shows like Jericho, Battle Star Galactica and to box office offerings like I am Legend starring Wil Smith and Cloverfield starring well... nobody!
This genre is hardly new as there have been a number of movies I remember from my youth starting of course with the Japanese monster movies like Godzilla, the Mad Max trilogy and Independence Day to name a few. Time went on to postulate why we seem to have appetites for this particular genre and reason why perhaps our appetite for such is heighten at different times in history. For example, Godzilla, the prehistoric nuclear made T-Rex type of creature entered Japans mainstream on the heals of the A-bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki putting an end, in a very definitive way, to the second world war. This event certainly has left an ominous cloud over the history of the world but specifically impacted the Japanese people and certainly their culture. It is suggested that perhaps the popularity of this nuclear generated giant monster who demolished Japanese cities and terrorized Japanese people was a way in which the Japanese people began to work through the fear of the ominous desolation of two cities and their inhabitants. The nuclear beast very well could have been a metaphor for the bomb but perhaps more importantly while Godzilla wreaks untold carnage, it was defeated, the object of their fear has been overcome and there was a new hope for a new and brighter future. Interestingly enough, in latter Godzilla movies, the nasty T-Rex becomes a defender of Japan against new creatures.
The rationale for the increased desire for this genre in the west is influenced in no small part by the events of 9/11 where the world for us in North America took on a whole new level of anxiety. No longer are global conflicts fought on foreign soil rather the events of 9/11 made global conflict very personal. The heightened angst over terrorism, the subsequent War on Terror, Global Warming and the dubious economic health of the United States certainly serves to further titillate a culture of fear just under the skin of the insulated and narcissistic North American people. If this hypothesis is correct, this genre is a means for people to have outlets for the steam (or anxiety) of this climate of fear and perhaps more importantly a message of hope and over-coming.
Interestingly enough, this genre tends to one of two very different outcomes. The Mel Gibson trilogy - Mad Max for example, we are left with a nuclear wasteland, a veritable desert of disorder, despair and hopelessness. The second is the antithesis of the first – in the aftermath of destruction is a new beginning, a new hope, where mistakes of the past are learned from, and wrongs and injustice are righted. It is the hope of rebuilding, building anew, more enlightened, and resilient Mother Earth will recover. These very different outcomes are very important to us as human beings as they can stir hope and perseverance or can lead us in to deeper despondency.
Apocalyptic literature in scripture points to the later, a promised new hope, a new beginning, a promise of justice. It is interesting to note that the original meaning of apocalyptic has not so much to do with the end of all things but a type of literature which communicates a revelation from God via a personal encounter with God or angelic being and a journey to the past or future. There is a great deal of apocalyptic literature in the Christian scripture most notably the book of Daniel and Revelation.
The book of Daniel also serves the important purpose of proclaiming hope to an exiled people. Israel is in Babylonian capitivity and under the heavy hand of Nebuchanezar. Daniel and his friends have thwarted Nebucannezzar efforts to kill them by fire and the lions as they remain faithful to to God. In the midst of the great trials God preserves them and Nebbucanezzar is confounded. A story of Gods faithfulness to sustain His people even in captivity and oppression. The visions following are apocalyptic as it tells of the the struggles to come, fall of the kings to come and leads up to the King they are awaiting, the one who will lead them once and for all out of captivity. Daniel's visions in a general sense gives the exiled people of Isreal hope that in the time of estrangement, domination and oppression there is a promise of restoration and liberation. The Kings of the nations who dominate them will be vanquished under the reign of the Prince of Princes. A message of hope that in the face of of fierce and brutal earthly Kings, they are not without hope, they will not perish in their sin and disobedience but the work of restoration and healing is at hand and will be completed.
When folks have been crushed under the weight of their own failure and short sighted-ness. When folks are being ravaged by the powers of this world, a hope eternal, a bright future and one of justice is a tremendous gift which brings a sense of life to what feels like living death, total dispair.
John shares a vision he had while in exile in Patmos, a wondrous and mysterious oracle that some believe predates the Gospel of John and John's letters. A vision of heaven and the interaction with Jesus and angelic figures who showed him what was to come! This must have been a significant challenge for John as he has to translate a vision of heavenly, other worldly realities using the very limited medium of human words, even as wonderfully proficient as the Greeks believed their language to be! Oh how great the challenge to describe experiences that have no temporal comparison and yet John crafts an a epic adventure that tells of great struggle, apparent defeat of the saints and a resounding and complete victory over the enemies of God and the establishment of an eternal Kingdom, a Kingdom of a new heaven and new earth.
John in Revelation is speaking to a church in turmoil. The ever present pressure of persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire, the forced worship of the Emperor as god and the internal pressures within the church itself. The church was struggling under at least two errors. One was gnosticism and suggested Jesus wasn't actually human, rather spirit and the other came which over emphasized Jesus' humanity. They taught there was a secret knowledge and only certain people were able to grasp it. The other was the libertines who abused Paul's teaching on the freedom we have in Christ and gave license for people to gratify the lusts of self love.
In the midst of apparent chaos, seemingly tearing away at the fabric of the Way, John speaks to the internal error and seeks to bring either side to appreciate the paradox of the nature of Jesus as fully God and fully man. Furthermore, he calls people out of the love of self, not by enslaving them again to the law, rather to the law of love. At the same time the book of Revelation seems to call out to the Church to persevere, to hang in there in the midst of uncertainty, persecution and division. To persevere in the apostolic faith and remain steadfast in light of the Romans who were violently persecuting the believers. To remain steadfast in hope and love because a day is coming when the Kingdom will manifest, where there is no more tears or sickness but life and lots of it! A new heaven and new earth. A world without end!
This is important to understand today in a Christian culture which seemingly has been so influenced by Plato. Teaching that says the spiritual is good, the physical is bad and the only hope is to raptured away from this corrupted existence. A hatred of what it is to be human in a sense which is really contrary to us being create human, formed in the image of God, the hope of bodily resurrection of the dead and the idea of the veil separating heaven and earth being removed once and for all – the new heaven and new earth! The plan of God is not one of escapism and retreat but one of perseverance, overcoming and victory. It is precisely this which John's Revelations proclaims to a church under the hand of tyranny of the powers of the world.
This is important to a Church who is looking to the return of Jesus to rescue them from the great horrors of persecution and to judge and avenge the blood of the martyrs with a promise of crowns to all those who remain faithful and overcome. These apocalyptic works were (still are) crucial to encourage with hope and orthodoxy the good news of the Kingdom. To bring a sense of hope to a frightened and fractured group of believers. A message to hang in there! Don't give up! You have not been forgotten and your faith is not in vain! For Jesus is returning and He will vindicate you! He will deliver you and justice will be served and His Kingdom will reign for ever!
Perhaps, as in many times throughout history, in a culture of fear and anxiety, the hope of the Christian Gospel has never been more important. Not unlike the Christians of the seven churches John addresses in Revelations, todays churches are facing many similar struggles. Challenges from within, orthodoxy, division and from the outside, uncertainty, fear, loneliness, broken relationships, materialism and relativism. Those folks outside the church share similar struggles and the proclamation of full Gospel, the REALLY good news will once again serve as a light to point Christians and non-christian alike to to an eternal hope and promise which will empower the present to persevere in the midst of an ever changing and topsy turvy world. To embrace this hope in the person of Jesus to the end that we enter into the plan of God in the final culmination of all things in Christ.