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End Times & The End of the Age
DefinitionThe End Times are a time of tribulation that will precede the coming of a Messiah figure in many world religions. Primarily, the term End Times has evolved from use around a group of beliefs in Christian millennialism.
These beliefs about the end times typically include the ideas that the biblical apocalypse is imminent and that various signs in current events are omens of Armageddon. These beliefs have been widely held in one form, by the Adventist movement (Millerites), by Jehovah's Witnesses, and in another form by dispensational premillennialists.
End times beliefs in Christianity vary widely. Christian premillennialists, who believe the End Times are now, usually articulate a fairly specific timetable that climaxes in the end of the world. For some, Israel, the European Union, or the United Nations are seen as key players whose role was foretold in prophecies. Among dispensational premillennialists, there are those that believe that they will be supernaturally summoned to Heaven by the Rapture before the tribulations prophesied in the Bible's book of Revelation take place.
'End times' may also refer simply to the passing of a particular age or long period in the relationship between man and God. Adherents to this view sometimes cite St. Paul's second letter to Timothy, and draw analogies to the late 20th/early 21st centuries.
Post-Exilic Hebrew books of prophecy such as the Book of Daniel and Book of Ezekiel are given new interpretations in this Christian tradition, while apocalyptic forecasts appear in the Judeo-Christian Sibylline Oracles and in the whole field of apocalyptic literature, which includes the Book of Revelation ascribed to John, the apocryphal Apocalypse of Peter, and the Second Book Of Esdras.
Religious movements which expect that the second coming of Christ, will be a cataclysmic event, generally called adventism, have arisen throughout the Christian era; but they became particularly common during and after the Protestant Reformation. Shakers, Emanuel Swedenborg (who considered the second coming to be symbolic, and to have occurred in 1757), and others developed entire religious systems around a central concern for the second coming of Christ, disclosed by new prophecy or special gifts of revelation. The Millerites are diverse religious groups which similarly rely upon a special gift of interpretation for fixing the date of Christ's return.
The chief difference between the nineteenth century Millerite and Adventist movements and contemporary prophecy belief is that William Miller and his followers fixed the time for the Second Coming by calendar calculations based on interpretations of the Biblical apocalypses; they originally set a date for the Second Coming in 1844. These sorts of computations also appear in some contemporary prophecy beliefs, but few contemporary End Times prophets use them to fix a date; their timetables will be triggered by future events such as the Rapture. Rather, contemporary End Times believers point to current events as indicating imminent world wars and moral catastrophes, and accordingly believe that God's judgment against the conflict-ridden and corrupt world is close at hand.
Dispensationalism, in contrast to the Millerite Adventist movement, got its start in the 19th century, when John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren religious denomination, incorporated into his system of Biblical interpretation a system of organizing Biblical time into a number of discrete dispensations, each of which marks a separate covenant with God. Darby's beliefs were widely publicised in Cyrus I. Scofield's Scofield Reference Bible, an annotated Bible that became popular in the United States of America.
Since the majority of the Biblical prophets were writing at a time when Palestine was mostly Jewish, and the Temple in Jerusalem was still functioning, they wrote as if those institutions would still be in operation during the prophesied events. According to Preterism this was the very fulfillment of the prophecies. However, according to Futurists their destruction in A.D. 70 put the prophetic timetable, if there is one, on hold. Many such believers therefore anticipated the return of Jews to Palestine and the reconstruction of the Temple before the Second Coming could occur. (See Christian Zionism)
The Apocalypse of John and Gospel of John are held by most current Christian scholars to have been written at least a decade after the fall of Jerusalem in 95 AD, especially those supportive of Dispensationalism the dominant belief in mainline American evangelicalism. But new voices within Christianity contest this claim (See Preterism) and much debate has ensued following publication of Kenneth Gentry's work Before Jerusalem Fell which argues from archaeology and ancient texts (including the Book of Revelation itself) that the book was written during the reign of Roman emperor Nero in the 60s AD.
Conservatives usually place the writing of the synoptic gospels before the fall of Jerusalem. Liberal Christians place the writing of the three other (synoptic) gospels after the fall of Jerusalem. One prominent Australian theologian from Sydney, Paul Barnett, disputes this and places the writing of John's gospel at an early date.
The foundation of Israel in 1948 gave a major boost to the dispensationalist belief system; Israel's history of wars with its Arab neighbours did even more for it. After the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, it seemed plausible to many fundamentalist Christians in the 1970s that Mideast turmoil may well be paving the way for the Battle of Armageddon.
Leaders of the movement such as Hal Lindsey claimed furthermore that the European Economic Community was a revived Roman Empire, and would become the kingdom of the coming Antichrist or Beast. A Roman Empire, of course, also figured in the New Testament writers' vision of the future. The fact that in the early 1970s, there were (erroneously thought to be) seven nations in the European Economic Community was held to be significant; this aligned the Community with a seven headed dragon in Revelation. This specific prophecy has required revision, but the idea of a revived Roman Empire remains.
The Antichrist was supposed to be the dictatorial leader of a "one world government." He would promise peace to the world while leading Christians into apostasy, and impose a "one world money system" based on the number 666 in which everyone had to have the Number of the Beast branded on them or injected under the skin as a transponder in order to buy or sell. Like the Roman emperors of old, he would impose horrible martyrdoms on surviving Christians. At some point after his appearance, a large number of Jews would convert to Christianity and preach the gospel after the Christians had been removed by the Rapture.
Believers in the system therefore scanned the headlines wondering if various world leaders might be the Antichrist, and wondering whether Mideast violence might be a sign of Armageddon. They feared such things as Social Security numbers and UPC barcodes, fearing that these tax identification numbers may be precursors to the dangerous Number of the Beast, whose receipt destines one's soul to damnation.
The Antichrist, (it is believed), will take the stage initially as the global peacemaker Daniel mentions in Dan.9:27. This coming prince will broker a covenant or treaty with Israel for a period of seven years. Perhaps with global disarmament he will promise to ensure peace in the world after a particularly destructive future war. His ally will be the Whore of Babylon who was seen in vision by John in Revelation 17. John saw this mysterious harlot actually riding the beast and exerting some sort of control over him for a period of time. This harlot entity heads up an apostate church or some sort of global system of false religion.
At the midpoint of the final seven years a world ravaged by plague and turmoil turns to the Antichrist to lead it. Their hope is that a world dictator will deliver it from the beastly chaos the harlot rulership unleashed and was unable to control. The Antichrist at that time is possessed by a beast demon from the Abyss and so becomes the Beast. The prophet Daniel, again in Dan. 9:27 states that at this time this "prince" will stop the daily sacrifices, (which had been resumed again on the Temple Mount). He then commits an appalling sacrilege not unlike the outrages of the Greek Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Now fully revealed as The Beast the Antichrist assumes global dictatorial rule and attempts to establish his 666 economic system. His persecutions of Christians and Jews at that time will be unprecedented. This three and a half year period of intense trouble and travail was referred to by Daniel. It was also spoken of by Jesus Christ in the Olivet Discourse. In Revelation 13 the Apostle John sets the limits to this great trial at 42 biblical months or three and a half years. This is referred to by Biblical eschatologists as the "Great Tribulation". And it coincides with the time of "Jacob's trouble" mentioned in Jeremiah and the trampling of Jerusalem referred to By John in Revelation 11.
Eventually, the Antichrist, under the threat of approaching armies from the orient, musters the armies of the west to attack Israel. At the climax of the story, the Battle of Armageddon, Jesus returns in the Second Coming. He destroys the armies gathering for the campaign against Jerusalem. They are sown into the ground in the Valley of Meggido or Valley of Jezreel in northwest Israel. This is known as the Battle of Armageddon.
The movement has spawned various timetables and countdowns to the apocalypse. This general tendency can be summed up with the title of one of Lindsey's books, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. The former Soviet Union played a large role in Lindsey's earlier interpretations; his later books understandably tone that down considerably, while new villains like Saddam Hussein take its place. The movement has strained relationships with conservative U.S. governments and in some ways with the government of Israel as some Jews think American Christians' supposed support of Israel is merely a cover for their hope of the destruction of Judaism during the end times.
The separate destinies of the Church and Israel which is inherent in dispensationalism is a particular worry to Jews and to some evangelical Christians. Evangelicals who reject dispensationalism, such as those who hold to a Post Tribulation Rapture, (or more accurately a Post Tribulation Resurrection-Rapture), see both the Church and Israel entering the crucible of the End Time together. These Traditional Pre-Millennialists, as they are called, reject dispensationalism and its end time eschatology as setting forth a dubious eschatology of an "apartheid of the Elect". They consider the dispensationalist doctrine of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture to be self-serving and highly unlikely to be the true last days policy of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Traditional Pre-Millennialists see all the covenant people of the God of Israel being refined together in the crucible of the end time. They also see the "royal priesthood and holy nation" referred to by Moses and by the Apostle Peter being unveiled in the Apocalypse as a single remnant Elect drawn out from Israel and from the wider Church in the nations.
It should be obvious from the foregoing that the apocalypse we see laid out in various parts of the Bible has a variety of viewpoints and interpretations. The Seventh-day Adventists have their own tradition of millennialism arising from the nineteenth century Millerite movement that is distinct, nondispensatioinalist, and unique in the doctrine of the investigative judgement. Because of its uniquenes, the fact that SDA's are often seen as different due to Sabbath-keeping, and because one of its founders Ellen G. White is thought to have had a prophetic gift of the Spirit, it has occasionally been characterised inaccurately by some who do not hold it, or who have abandoned it, as a mass paranoid delusion, with ideas of reference that supposedly reveal secret and sinister meanings that link unrelated events. However, every interpretation and denomination has those who (often bitter) come to reject and attempt to debunk their previous beliefs, something called reaction formation, and an example of why it would be far preferable if critics of any theological interpretation would refrain from using pejorative psychiatric concepts against those they disagree with.
End times speculations have occasionally been made the subject of political controversy, especially in the United States when conservative Christians seek national political office. The implications of the prophecies that turmoil in the Middle East is inescapable, that nuclear war is predestined by Scripture, and that it will supernaturally lead to a divine utopia, give rise to some misgivings among unbelievers in the prophecies. James G. Watt, Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, once remarked that "my responsibility is to follow the Scriptures which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns;" this was interpreted by political foes as meaning that we did not need to take care of the environment because Jesus was returning soon. Ronald Reagan himself was quoted in 1980 as saying that "we may be the generation that sees Armageddon." It is not clear if this was a prophetic reference, or a simple reference to the ever-present possibility of a war between the USA and USSR that could destroy the world. Similar controversies have followed former United States Attorney General John Ashcroft, albeit in a different geo-political context.
End time speculation has been part of the religious and cultural scene in America since its founding. Many Americans have seen the sweep of western history and have looked at the New World as the seat of the last great Christian superpower. Many evangelicals today see the present Pax Americana as the final waypoint and a threshold into the apocalypse. Americans who are drawn to apocalyptic themes are not just biblical Christians. Unitarian pacifist songwriter Julia Ward Howe saw the Union Army encamped before a great battle during the Civil War. She then wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic. This national hymn of America abounds with prophetic biblical themes. The hymn also suggests an epic future interface of American history with the apocalypse we see outlined in the Bible.
Read more about End Time Prophecies.