Reflection 11/16: Apocalypse in the Bible–No Crystal Ball
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
Oh, my … the Book of Daniel and Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of both the Temple and Jerusalem (not to mention a reference to his own death and resurrection); then when we include for example the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Bible—well, we are inundated by misunderstandings, false impressions, and bad theology being used to predict the future. All of this is so wrong.
People have always wanted to get a head start in predicting the future. I don’t know why, but people of spiritual faith seem particularly susceptible to this. Ancient Jewish law forbade fortune telling and soothsaying. The truth is that most biblical passages that seem to tell us what is going to happen, reflect rather what was already happening in the historical eras in which they were written. The Book of Daniel reflects what was going on in Jerusalem and Temple politics about a couple of centuries before Jesus. Jesus’ predictions had already come to pass before the gospels were written several decades later. And the Book of Revelation reflects the rot and destruction in the ancient Middle East and Rome. These beautiful works of scriptural writing, creativity, and imagination have much to teach us, although we can’t go to the Bible as a facsimile of front page of newspaper to be published at some indefinite moment in the future.
It’s pretty obvious that we can look at history—and all around us—to predict that human beings will continue to do terrible things. Upheavals will continue, nations will be at war, political power will be used cravenly, and people will suffer. The Bible is stating what we know to be tragically true. We can consider the ongoing, heart-rending despoiling of our environment as the result of willful blindness, greed, and power mongering as a case in point. The Bible is most valuable not as fortune telling, but rather in exposing the dark heart of humanity, and our profound need for salvation and redemption.