"At this time of great crisis in the world, we should be looking for nuclear disarmament, nuclear abolition saving the world, not ramping up for Armageddon by nuclear proliferation." Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)
"There's always an alien battle cruiser, or a Korlian death ray, or an intergalactic plague that's trying to wipe out life on this miserable little planet." (Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black.")
Armageddon is hot again and why not? We crave explanations for wars in the Middle East and madness at home, such as the shooting of six people at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle last week by a man claiming to be a Muslim and wanting revenge against Israel. Our country is flooded with illegal aliens of the human kind. Some contend the culture is collapsing. Gangs rampage. The economy is uncertain. There is open political warfare. In our ceaseless attempts to find solutions, or at least explanations for this and more, no earthly formula seems adequate, so some look to the skies.
End-of-the-world prophecies have been around almost since the beginning. Ancient prophets, like Daniel in the Hebrew Bible and John the Apostle, who wrote Revelation, laid down visions of the destruction of the world and its replacement with a peaceful, heavenly kingdom.
Many complex mathematical formulas have been solved, but not "666," which is the "mark of the beast" foretold in Revelation. Many have guessed at its meaning, but the answer has eluded them. For those interested in the history of false and phony end times prophecy, a partial list can be found at www.isitso.org/guide/endtime.html. It makes for entertaining reading. One of my favorites is the Anabaptist preacher in the early 1500s named Hoffman who declared the end of the world would begin in 1533 and that Strassburg would be transformed into the "New Jerusalem."
The 1991 Persian Gulf War produced a spike in end-times books and sales. Some of them flatly predicted Armageddon was upon us. Authors noted that modern Iraq is ancient Babylon and they saw the Iraq war as a possible, even probable, fulfillment of end-times prophecies. Like those before them, they were wrong. To paraphrase Stephen Sondheim, 'we're still here."
Authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have created an industry with their best-selling "Left Behind" book series about the Rapture and the disappearance of all Christians before the final battle of Armageddon takes place (15 titles and more than 63 million sold, which testifies to the intense interest in the subject). There is disagreement within Christian circles as to what comes first Armageddon or the Rapture but that can be left to those counting angels on pinheads and, for that matter, to pinheads. Whatever they decide isn't going to affect events, though it will sell books.
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If one is going to think on these things, instead of buying into the perceptions, predictions and punditry of those who can only guess about dates and times, wouldn't it be wiser (and less expensive) to consult Someone who claims to be the Supreme Authority on such matters?
Speaking of His return, Jesus of Nazareth warned about deceivers who would come in His Name, claiming to have knowledge about dates, times and the end of this world. His forecasts of "wars and rumors of wars," nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, famines and earthquakes (Matthew 24:4-8) sound like the newspaper front page.
Those events, He said, will be followed by persecution of His followers (already rampant in parts of the world), false prophets, an increase in wickedness and all sorts of other things. He said this would just be the beginning, or "birth pains." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used almost the same words when she spoke of the wars in Lebanon and Iraq as the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East. Jesus added that, "the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." (Luke 12:40)
On that authority, the end isn't yet upon us, because too many expect it. But, as Tim LaHaye said on "Good Morning America" last week, it is still good to be prepared. Stop worrying about dates and times, though, unless you're writing a book, making a movie, or delivering a speech. In those circumstances, "prophets" can make big profits with their modern equivalent of sandwich boards that proclaim the end is near.