Visions of the end begin to fascinate

Posted March 27, 2009, at 6:21 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:47 a.m.

This week I watched the new movie “Knowing,” which, along with amazing special effects disasters, offers an interesting take on the relationships of family love, prophecy, and faith in the afterlife when humanity faces the end of the world.

The End Times theme has a recurring place in history, of course. William Miller, a famous example, prophesied the Second Coming of Jesus for a certain day in 1843. The so-called Millerites sold all of their possessions and gathered for the great event. When it didn’t happen, they accepted Miller’s recalculation that the end was coming the next year.

Still, it can be argued we live in interesting times when, a short decade past the millennium, we find millions of people again anticipating the end of the world. As tempting dates go, the year 2000 was begging for it; 2,000 years since the birth of Christ just seemed so fitting. After all, back when the year 1000 rolled around, end times believers gathered in Europe’s cathedrals to wait in fear and trembling for midnight to come. But this time, when even the predicted Y2K computer crash failed to materialize, end times prophets turned to the year 2012 as the next target date.

I’ve had end times on my mind recently, since being asked to participate in a local radio show on the subject. (Years ago, as a graduate student at the University of Maine, Orono, I based my master’s thesis on a study of end times prophecy). The new target date is Dec. 21, 2012, thanks primarily to the generally accepted theory that it marks the end of the Mayan calendar. What the Mayans knew that we don’t is the question, of course, but that doesn’t stop us from guessing. Anyone who stays up nights listening to radio’s “Coast to Coast” on 103.9 after midnight knows that discussing 12-21-12 has become more popular than UFOs and Bigfoot combined.

Believers cite many authorities to demonstrate what might befall us in a little more than three and a half years. Their sources include a mix of Old and New Testament Bible prophecy, the prophecies of other religions, the predictions of environmental science, warnings received from Marian apparitions, and the visions of saints and mystics.

Some of the latter go back to the Middle Ages. For example, St. Malachy prophesied 112 popes, from 1139 to the present. Today’s Pope Benedict XVI is number 111, and the last pope, called Peter the Roman, is identified as “the last pope before the end.”

Other visions are happening today. One well-known Bangor writer reports receiving powerful warnings of dire consequences for the world, if mothers continue to choose abortion. He is now writing a book about his visions, and I hope to report more about this soon.

Bible prophecy has been explored in great detail in countless books, articles and sermons. Books such as “The Late Great Planet Earth,” by Hal Lindsey came about after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Israel is perhaps the single most important trigger in all of modern end times belief, because it started the Bible prophecy clock running again. By this gauge, predicted events include rebuilding the Third Temple where the Dome of the Rock now stands; the rise of the Antichrist (and no, President Obama does not fit his description); the assembling of the armies of the world to fight World War III in Armageddon; and the return of Jesus, who saves us from our self-destruction.

When I was in Israel, I stopped by the storefront office of the Orthodox Jews intent on rebuilding the Temple. They are set to go, but politics being what they are, it doesn’t look like they will gain access to the Temple Mount anytime soon. By the way, they send thanks to all those Christians who have donated money to their project, but be warned: If ever the Temple gets built, only Orthodox Jews will be welcome.

As a freshman at Columbia University, I took a Bible course with a professor who insisted the prophecies of the Bible book called “Revelation” had been fulfilled in the author’s day. A course at the University of Maine preached the same interpretation.

Now here’s the thing: You may be able to squeeze the Emperor Nero’s name into 666, and yes, there have always been famines, earthquakes and plagues. But when in Rome’s day did a third of the trees burn up (Rev. 8:7)? When did a third of all living sea creatures get destroyed (Rev. 8:9)? When did a star called Wormwood turn a third of the Earth’s waters bitter, so that people died — and by the way, “Chernobyl” means wormwood, so this “bitterness” could refer to radiation (Rev. 8:10-11). When in Roman times did “locusts” sound like helicopters (Rev. 9:9-10), and “mounted soldiers” sound like tanks with cannons and missiles (Rev. 9:17-19)? And when did a 200-million-soldier army (Rev. 9:16) exist? Never before in history. But interestingly, China now has an army that size, and a thirst for Middle East oil.

It’s sad but fascinating that Biblical description is today being fulfilled by politics, destructive technologies and greed. The world’s continuing passion for oil and Middle East conflict, coupled with relentless environmental destruction, makes Revelation a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Whether or not 12-21-12 is a key date in our suicidal behavior remains to be seen. But here’s a side note to think about: Hebrew letters and numbers are interchangeable, so look again at 12-21-12. In letters, that spells A-B-B-A-A-B. Read it from right to left (the way Hebrew and Aramaic are read), and it’s BA ABBA — which can be translated, “Father comes!”

Lee Witting is pastor of the Union Street Brick Church in Bangor. He may be reached at leewitting@midmaine.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.

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