Monday, May 2, 2011

Bible offers perspective on recent catastrophes

The recent earthquakes in Japan and around the world, and the revolt of nations in the Middle East, have eschatologists debating whether the end times are here. In the gospels, Jesus describes some signs the end of time is approaching: “Wars and rumors of wars … nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places and famines.”

Christians believe before the end of the earth as we know it, there will be a period known as the tribulation. The tribulation is believed to be seven years in which God will finally unleash his wrath on the earth through a series of devastating events. It will culminate with God conquering evil and restoring the earth to its original perfect state.

The Book of Revelation is the primary source for Christian eschatology. There is debate as to whether the book is to be taken literally or figuratively. The author uses a lot of imagery that is clearly symbolic. But despite various interpretations, Revelation is understood to be describing a period of great calamity on Earth.

There is disagreement as to the time period of the tribulation.

Preterists hold that nearly all the prophecies in Revelation are directed at the time period in which they were made. Futurists believe the prophesies are still to come and relate to the end time. Historists take a middle position: Revelation includes prophesies from the past and the future. Most mainstream Christians are futurists.

The apostle Paul speaks of Christians being “caught up to meet the Lord in the air.” This is known as the rapture. Theologians hold varying views on when the rapture will occur. A pre-tribulation view is one in which the rapture happens before the start of the tribulation. In a mid-tribulation view, the rapture occurs during the tribulation period. In a post-tribulation view, the rapture is at the end of the tribulation.

Proponents of the pre-tribulation view argue God would not allow his people to go through such suffering and thus he raptures the believers. Proponents of the post-tribulation view believe at least some Christians must be left on Earth to proselytize during the tribulation.

The catastrophes in the world today appear to be escalating, thus suggesting the end is near, but Jesus said, “No one knows the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Since it is impossible to predict when the end will come, the theist’s time is better spent evaluating his life and preparing for what lies beyond the grave.

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