Once in a while, someone asks me what I think of the 2012 predictions. I have an easy, one word answer: balderdash. People have been predicting the end of the world since Jesus returned to Heaven, and no one’s been right yet. Given the fact that no one has figured out Nostradamus’ predictions before they supposedly happen, and that all the Mayan calendar does is end its cycle December 21 (the surviving Mayans say it doesn’t mean it the end of the world), I see no compelling evidence the world is going to end soon any more than when I grew up in the missile fields during the Cold War.
When I was growing up in west central Missouri, we knew how the world was going to end. I remember seeing a rocket coming up the two lane highway south of my hometown when I was seven: it was great! The world stood still to watch the Mercury and Gemini flights, so having a rocket in my backyard was wonderful. When I got older, I knew when those rockets came out of our backyards, our world would be over in about 45 minutes, in spite of the Fallout Shelters and preparations some people made. We had Hal Lindsay’s Late, Great Planet Earth to refer to, and the fire in the book of Revelation had to be nuclear. It was all figured out. Then the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union disappeared. Yes, we could still get hit by some nukes, but not hundreds or thousands.
I believe the book of Revelation is in the Bible because it meant something to the people at the time it was written. The Ancient Romans were like the Borg of Star Trek: they wanted to assimilate, and they wanted the early Christians to assimilate or die. Revelation told the Church of its day in a message only they could hear that no empire lasts forever, and those who stay firm will be rewarded in the end. Of course, this message had to be in code: if I wrote a pamphlet in a police state that foretold doom and destruction for the powers that be, my life would in danger, to say the least. There were many writing in the Judeo-Christian tradition in the genre of Revelation called Apocalyptic, most famously Daniel 9 (written during the Greek persecution of Jews in the Second Century before Christ), and portions of the Gospels. Revelation was right: the persecution ended, and it was Christianity that converted empires.
There are a couple of examples that illustrate the level of coding in Revelation. The first is the image of Babylon, the heart of the evil empire. This is code for the city of Rome, and one connection is this: Babylon destroyed the First Temple in 586 BC, Rome destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD. The second revolves around the number 666: which many scholars believe represent the Roman Emperor Nero. Nero launched a local persecution of Christians in Rome in 64 AD, and the Emperor Diocletian, who ruled when Revelation was written around 95 AD, was also known as a persecutor of Christians.
Persecution of Christians around Ephesus, the key of the 7 cities mentioned in the beginning of the book, was sporadic, however a key reason for the pressure was the growing separation between Jewish and Christian communities. The Jews had an exemption from the cult of Emperor worship, since they practiced an ancient religion with virtues the Romans admired (so much they didn’t outlaw Judaism immediately after the Great Revolt of 66-70 and the destruction of the Second Temple). As Christians because their own entity, they were considered a Superstition, given no legal recognition, and particularly since so many Christians weren’t Jews, they lost the exemption to Emperor worship the Jews had. Failure to follow this law meant legal consequences, ridicule, dispossession and death. There were also cases of mob violence against Christians from time to time, which must have worried them and given them reason to reconsider their commitment to Christ. Revelation presents a message of hope through endurance they needed to hear. And they did, they survived.
There are lots of folks who read Scripture claiming to know it’s coming soon, finding events in the news that the Bible talks about and stringing things together to prove the fatal clockwork is already ticking down. I don’t believe that a God that is Love wants to frighten us to belief, that seems a bit contradictory to say the least, and it’s not our calling to puzzle out what God’s doing like Divine Mystery is something that needs to be solved. I always take Matthew 24:36-44 as my guide: we don’t know when Christ will return, but we’re supposed to be ready anytime. I always wonder how the doomsayers will profit from what they say; I try to live each day at a time with the realization one of them will be the last. When that happens, we’ll be with Jesus forever, and there’s nothing better than that. Anything bad that may happen to us will pass. So why worry? Jesus will return someday, and it will be the best day this planet will ever know. Creation will be healed and the Kingdom of God will be among us in its fullness. Of course, no one would want to be left out of that reality.