A Christian Living in the Post-Apocalyptic Age

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In this memoir, the author questions his life-long study of the Book of Revelation. His analyses of the text, historical context, scientific plausibility, exegesis and influence challenge the conventional wisdom of scholars, but moreover, reveal a disturbing connection to the Holocaust.
First 10 Pages


Chapter 1. The Unanswerable Questions

Chapter 2. Apocalyptic literature.

Chapter 3. The times of Jesus’ life

Chapter 4. The science of prophecy

Chapter 5. The Return of the Messiah, eternal life and the Judgement

Chapter 6. The Holocaust

Chapter 7. The Two Witnesses

Chapter 8. How, then, should we live?

Appendices A-N

Chapter 1. The Unanswerable Questions

On October 5, 1977 I was sitting on a grassy hill at my university studying quantum mechanics when a friend passing by sat down beside me on the grass, and we began to chat. As we talked, I noticed that he had a photograph of someone in his notebook, and I asked my friend who it was; he told me it was the New Messiah. I was amazed that the Messiah was on earth now; but how would I know if this were not some phony? I remembered from church, when my friend and I were altar boys, that the Bible held prophecies that could identify the Messiah. So, I went out that very day and bought a Bible and started reading it. I read the whole book in 6 months, and after about a year I thought I understood it well enough to know what to expect. There would be a few atomic bombs dropped, and then an interim period would begin in which many decisive historic events would come to pass. I feared those coming days for years, decades, until I finally faced those two atomic bombs that had been dropped at the end of the Second World War.

We were already living in the post-apocalyptic age.

It has taken 40 years of study to come to this conclusion, but I refuse to be totally sure, because there are some questions that are unanswerable.

What is the Kingdom of God? Does God enter history to show us the way? Much of what we know, or have been led to believe, comes down to the authenticity of certain ancient texts, a selection of which are canonized. How can we allow this in the modern age, and what will come to advance our knowledge? Is the Holy Spirit a true spiritual entity, or is it manifestation of the human mind? What is the rational way forward? Yet, we remain true to these ancient texts. How can we discover the truth?

This book follows my exploration of these questions by analysis and interpretation of the Bible, specifically the Book of Revelation. My approach pivots on the validity of the Book of Revelation, so it is important to determine its authenticity. Does it bear the marks of a fake? Was it composed by some individual with ambiguous motives, or was it the product of an astonishingly vivid vision or dream? It is not possible to scientifically determine if the Revelation is the word of God (an unanswerable question), but that may not be necessary. It would be sufficient to say that the work is an honest account.

Is there a key message? Will it tell us something of the message from God delivered by Jesus? Although you won't necessarily hear this at church, the Kingdom of God appeared to be his main concern. It will be shown that the sovereignty of God is the central message of Revelation, and so these messages are similar.

As far as is known, there is no documentation to identify the author or the date of the composition. It is easy to assume that the John who wrote the prophecy is the same John who wrote the Gospel, or the letters, but this is not supported by literary analysis. The vocabulary of John of the Gospels is akin to the Gnostic tradition, whereas the John of Revelation is more steeped in Jewish prophecy, especially Daniel.

The structure of the Book of Revelation is like no other. It can be divided into 2 parts. The first is an admonition written in the form of letters to the 7 Churches. This is a remarkable parallel to the letters written by Paul and others. The second part reminds us much of Ezekiel or Daniel, in which the vision comes upon the prophet, and an angel is there to interpret the meaning.

The second part of the Revelation is structured in the most novel and repetitive pattern. There are 7 seals, 7 trumpets, 7 bowls, and these are presented as referring to eras or time periods. These may be a repetition of the same events, or correspond to a total of 21 eras. It is highly structured and repetitive and relies heavily on images and ideas from the Old Testament. The highly organized structure of the vision could be taken as indication that it is a conceived work.

One approach to understanding the literature and influence of prophecy is to analyze the prophecies in Genesis; this way the characteristics of God's prophecies can be listed. To my surprise, prophecy was not always framed as a condition, for example, “repent, lest God send the Syrians to defeat you”. What stands out as the most important prophecies in Genesis were the Covenants. An agreement between God and man, in which God promises to do certain things. For example, Abraham is promised that he will become the father of a great nation. And the promise is repeatedly told to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The prophecies in the book of Genesis were plainly written. For example, “If you have faith in Me, I will be your God, and you will be my people.” This changes by the end of Genesis when prophecies were beginning to be recorded in symbolic language; while this language is associated with dreams and the unconscious, it is ambiguous and requires interpretation. The multiple meanings of symbols may in fact suit the method in which this information is transmitted, but it also means there can never be a single interpretation. The way I have approached this insoluble problem is to accept that there are Unanswerable Questions, the questions that defy fulfillment of prophecy. This allows me to avoid the trap of trying to associate certain historical events with specific passages in the Book of Revelation. Instead, by identifying the Unanswerable Questions, an attempt is made to pierce the blinding veneer of the vision and ultimately discover what is most important.

As an example, consider the wrath of God. Several times in Revelation we find that the death and destruction meted out is the Wrath of God (Rev 11:18, 14:9, 16:9). This is not consistent with the teachings of a loving and forgiving God, and furthermore, we know that war and murder are the acts of men, not of God. Why should God, or man for that matter, be wrathful? I have observed this in the Iraq war of 2003. When the USA was attacked in 9/11, the fury of their revenge was something to behold. The TV and radio airwaves were filled with the drumbeat of war. Not a single voice stood for moderation and justice. The few who did were quickly drowned out and accused of treason. Then, once the war was over, and the numbers of innocent lives sacrificed to wrath were counted, they began to beat their breasts, saying, if only we had not been deceived. This bloodlust comes upon us, and since we deny owning it, we attribute it to God. And indeed, it is beyond our conscious control. So, what is the Unanswerable Question arising from this Wrath of God?

According to PK Dick (of Sci-Fi fame), the rock bottom bewildering puzzle is that an omniscient benign entity who could help alleviate undeserved suffering does not. Dick lists several reasons, but he misses the most obvious one. Because God chooses not to interfere with our lives. I puzzled over this only briefly, and the answer was obvious to me at a young age. We have the most remarkable thing, even if some say it is an illusion for the most part. We can decide what to do at every moment of our lives. I may be corralled into many if not most behaviors by biology: my need for food and shelter, my social status, my desire for love and family. In between those fixed parameters, I have many, many choices; and that could only be if I have free will. Some philosophers refute this, and so the question of free will is currently unanswered.

If a question has remained unanswered for many, many years, that does not guarantee it is an Unanswerable Question; one day an answer could be found. At the same time, some questions can be proved mathematically to be unanswerable, and the scientific rationale for this is presented in Chapter 4.

Why do so many people take the Book of Revelation seriously? According to historical analysis of apocalypses, there are few basic psychological reasons for the generation and proliferation of these texts. The first is that the community is oppressed, and the text provides comfort in knowing that one day their fidelity will be vindicated, if not revenged. The other is to stabilize the community, to keep it together, and define an identity. There are religious reasons, which the literalists may exclude because they may not believe in the reality of prophecy. The first is to simply prepare the community for the future. Indeed, the Little Apocalypse of Jesus ends with the admonition "keep watch, for you do not know the day." And the second reason is to give meaning to the events of history. If no meaning can be found, then this is where the Unanswerable Questions arise.

The following is a selection of prophecies from Revelation of St John which give rise to Unanswerable Questions. The quotes are based on Palmer (see Appendix A). The prophecies are discussed briefly, and reference is made to the chapters in this book in which the Unanswerable Question is further analyzed.

Rev 1:7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, including of those who pierced him. And all the peoples of the earth shall beat their breasts over him.

This prophecy is very similar to Daniel 7:13. The imagery is brilliant and alive; it is easy for us to take this prophecy literally. Indeed, in the first chapter of Acts, Jesus is lifted up into heaven, and the angel says that Jesus will return in the same way that he departed. Should we take this prophecy to mean that Jesus will return on a spaceship? That would be too good to be true, but this does point to an Unanswerable Question. We all hope for a Messiah who will come in great glory and lead us through the catastrophe we see approaching. It is hard to imagine anything worse than what occurred in WW2, and yet the environmental disaster that looms could be far worse.

Can we really expect a Messiah to step off a spaceship and rescue us? No. Clearly this is something we must do for ourselves. This must be referring to something deeper in our spirit.

The prophecy says that we will mourn because of him. This will take on a surprising meaning in Chapter 6 on the Holocaust.

We must remember that when this was written, there was little understanding of clouds or weather. It is easy to believe that there was a glorious kingdom in the sky, so it is simply a symbolic representation of the coming of a kingdom.

Chapter 5 will show that "Who is coming with the clouds?" is an Unanswerable Question.

Rev 2:11 He who overcomes will certainly not be harmed by the second death.

This prophecy relates to the spiritual death, and builds upon the belief that after we die, we live in heaven as angels, or some such supernatural being. This concept is so important, it appears 5 times in Revelation (Rev 2:7, Rev 2:10 Rev 2:11; Rev 3:5; Rev 21:4). Indeed, the vision in my conversion experience was exactly this; those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life. But let's be scientific. We know that our brain is an organic computer. The thoughts, feelings, actions and memories all have their origin in this amazing machine, and it seems so sad, and such a waste, that it all is lost upon our death. Of course we want to believe that it continues somehow, and indeed it does. But not in the way that is commonly believed, like angels living in the clouds. Instead, every moment of our life in which we interact with anything makes a permanent change upon this universe. The echo of our existence cannot be eliminated. But can our individual personality be recreated from it? Even if it could, even if all the elements that make up an individual personality could reassemble to recreate the life, there is no way that this could be proven. This will be discussed further in Chapter 5 which reviews the historical interpretations of eternal life, and the problem of supernatural beings.

Maybe we can imagine some kind of life, in which we transmit our thoughts and actions into a book, or even a computer, and some simulation of our life could be recreated. This would not, nor could it ever, have the richness of the life we are privileged to enjoy today. Beyond comforting us, the promise of eternal life does not seem to be a scientific possibility. This again is where we look for an Unanswerable Question. Perhaps this is the hope of human life to escape extinction, and evolve into something we cannot even imagine now.

Can we have a second life?

Rev 3:10 Because you have kept my word about endurance, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which is about to come upon the whole inhabited earth, to try those dwelling on the earth.

The Judgment is so important that it appears many times (Rev 3:10; Rev 6:17; Rev 7:14; Rev 11:18; Rev 14:7; Rev 16:14; 17:1; 18:8; 18:21; 19:11; 20:12-13). While the hope of eternal life encourages us to live a life of effort and goodness, likewise the fear of the judgment does the same thing. It is the old carrot and stick. It is not as easy to dismiss the Judgment as being as scientifically impossible as eternal life. The standard meaning given to the judgement day is the hour of death, after which all actions are complete and so a tally can be made of the life. Although each and every one must face this judgement at death, there is no doubt the hour of trial described here is more than that.

The earliest example of a Judgment in the Bible is the Flood, and it is significant that it is associated with the Covenant God made with Noah that never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life (Gen 9:15). Judgment is commonly used in the Old Testament to indicate a great event, where death has overtaken the enemies of God. It is not until the New Testament that we find the Day of Judgment (Matthew 10:15). There are many non-Biblical prophecies that describe a similar Day of Judgment, and these are reviewed in Chapter 5. These have had a large impact on history, for example, the expression World War has its roots in the idea that all humanity is facing sudden calamity. This implies that humanity has already passed through several Judgment Days.

Must humanity pass through the worst of the Judgment, or is there a way to avoid it?

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Rev 10:6-7 … and swore by Him who lives for ever and ever, He who gave birth to the heaven and the things in it, and to the earth and the things in it, and to the sea and the things in it, he swore that there shall be no more time, but that in the days of the blast of the seventh angel, whenever he is about to sound his trumpet, even then will be brought to completion the mystery of God, as he has announced it to his servants the prophets.

This prophecy is of prominent importance, for the angel swears an oath about it! Only in one other prophecy does the angel swear an oath, and that is Daniel 12:7 in which the Angel lifts his hand and swears that these things will be accomplished, which refers to the coming of Prince Michael. In this case the oath refers to the mystery of God. Which mystery exactly?

Surprisingly there is little consensus. A survey of the Biblical exegesis, summarized in Appendix B, shows only half the answers quote the word “mystery” in scripture; the rest were efforts to explain what a mystery means. The history of interpretations can be traced in commentaries from the 17th century onward. One commentator, Clarke, frankly admits he does not know. Others use parallels within Revelation to compare it to what happens when the 7th trumpet is finally blown in Rev 15:5. And others suggest the reference to “his servants the prophets” refers to Paul, although this assumes Paul’s writings came before the Book of Revelation. The dating of these texts will be discussed in Chapter 2 on the literature of the apocalypse. Paul describes 3 mysteries: to bring unity under Christ (see Ephesians 1:9–10), to include the Gentiles as heirs with Israel through the gospel (Ephesians 3:3–6), and marriage (Ephesians 5:31–32).

The expression “his servants the prophets” is well-known in the Old Testament, such as 2 Kings 17:13, 17:23, 21:10, 24:2; Ezek. 38:17; Zech. 1:6; Jer. 7:25, 25:4, and Dan. 9:10. These refer to the Law, or to the punishment Israel will receive for disobeying God’s laws. However, the word “mystery” is not used in the Old Testament.

The entire purpose of the Old Testament, at least from the Christian perspective, was to prepare the world for the Messiah. The Covenant with Abraham, the Law given to Moses, the Nation of Israel assembled by David, all of these moved history towards the culmination of Jesus’ mission. Jesus speaks of mystery indirectly as secrets when interpreting his parables for the disciples, as appears in all synoptic Gospels. The parables are about the Kingdom, and it could be argued that the entire prophecy of the Book of Revelation moves towards this, the New Jerusalem. Indeed, the exact meaning of the “Kingdom of God” is difficult to understand. The common thinking is that this is a kind of utopia, but that is not supported by Jesus’ descriptions, as listed in Appendix C.

If the Mystery refers to the Kingdom of God, how will it be accomplished? The Book of Revelation suggests that judgement must precede its coming. Albert Schweitzer writes in The Mystery of the Kingdom of God,

"The Affliction exhibits the concrete traits of a determined event. Jesus brings it down from the vague heights of apocalyptic drama to the level of human history. Therein lies something prophetic of the future of Christianity." The Mystery of the Kingdom of God. Albert Schweitzer 1914

His theological theory is that the sacrifice of Jesus brought about the Kingdom, but we only see fragments of a Kingdom today. It may have only started the process rolling. Paul brought the message of Jesus to the Gentiles in a way the Jerusalem church did not approve. This seems to have helped establish Christianity within the Roman Empire, but we must not overlook the role the Book of Revelation played in setting out the pathway.

One aspect of the Mystery is the portrayal of Jesus as the Lamb. This calls on Christians to lay down their weapons, and in doing so achieve the ultimate victory. Incredibly, this is not practiced by Christians today. If anything, the Christian nations are the most militant. The idea that suffering and sacrifice are needed before redemption appears to be a fact without rationale. This mystery will be further discussed in Chapter 4 on the psychology of the Book of Revelation, and in Chapter 6 regarding the Holocaust.

How will the mystery of God be accomplished?