It is truly important how we interpret the end times from the biblical narrative. It does determine how we interpret the now and how we react.
In this article, I do not want to falsify any end-time view nor say that one is more accurate than the other. All I am doing is thinking about the consequences out loud.
The most common view of end times in Christianity tells us that everything is getting worse, and then it is getting really bad for a time. But then, for a thousand years, things are great, with a little problem at the end called the battle of Armageddon. And in the end, we will live in a new earth under a new heaven for eternity without sin.
The so called tribulation time is believed to be imminent and last for 7 years.
There are different interpretation with Christians being hidden in heaven for all of those seven years, half of them, or not at all.
Other interpretations see most of the narrative as having played out either shortly before the destruction of the temple or shortly thereafter, with only minor parts being futuristic.
And again some see this as a psychological archetypical narrative, playing out within the individual at any time of history, portraying the fight of the two souls living within us, as Paul put it.
Or as recurring catastrophic events culminating in the last most intense iteration called the tribulation.
None of those interpretations, or any of the others, really can be proven from scripture, and are a matter of personal faith. All of them are supported by many verses, depending on how we read those verses.
Want an example?
“It will be like in the days of Noah.” In the rapture theory, we believe that the righteous will be taken, while in Noah’s time, the righteous were the only ones left.
But what is the danger of having an end time view?
To believe that most has played out in the past may leave us complacent.
To believe that the worst is imminent may motivate us to talk to people about the gospel.
To believe that Christians will be spared will again make us complacent in our time of hyper-individualism.
To believe the end is imminent will have us not invest in solving the big problems of the earth and humanity and therefore be bad stewards.
To believe that the end is still thousands of years away may make us complacent.
Unless of course we think of the limited time on earth we all have. Why should I be complacent when I believe that the end is not nigh? I still know that each and everybody of us is going to die. This makes the matter urgent enough!
But one of the most limiting believes of a coming tribulation time is this: we believe that mankind in and of itself is not capable to do any good or to develop.
Thus, we do not believe that circumstances can teach us anything, the possible exception of course being us Christians.
So we see opportunities in crisis, but it is only about getting all people to be like us: traditional Christians that believe in one absolute truth, mainly our personal, sorry, denominational understanding of the bible.
Did I say denominational? Of course it is not denominational, it is what is written and therefore should be catholic, that is universal.
This neglects that all our reading of course is subjective as we see through glasses dimly, that is our own imprint, upbringing, culture, background, personality.
But back to why our view of end times matter in what kind of reaction we show.
Looking into the future, we are slanted to see the negative coming. This will release adrenaline into our system. Adrenaline has us either fight or flee.
With the bible telling us that everything is going to be beautiful, but first tribulation, we focus on tribulation. We react with adrenaline. We either want to fight the system or flee to heaven. Most have decided to flee, therefore the rapture. Why? Because only a few can sustain fight for so long–we are waiting for almost 2000 years now, and what is even more important, because we can grasp it: we have been waiting for our whole life.
If the outlook is positive and we focus on that, we release dopamine, the drug dope of the body. It gives us a high, or as we might call it, hope.
We can achieve that in several ways:
We can acknowledge that tribulation and rapture are mere interpretations and might not happen. We can give up calculating the immediacy of the return of Christ, because it is mere speculation. And we can concentrate on the other eschatology in the bible with us going from glory to glory.
Another way is to imagine ourselves sitting in a little street cafe in the new earth at the side of the river of God, drinking some juice pressed from fruits that grow monthly on its both sides, and look back on the development of the time since, well, now.
The second will usually not result in a positive outcome, as we still believe what we believe to have happened.
The pandemic we are in results in end-times interpretations left and right, and none of them is dopamine. All are adrenaline. All are warnings. Of course, everybody will tell you that it is not about doom and gloom but hope and action. Well intended, but the human reaction will be adrenaline–fight or flight.
Pandemics have happened before, and every single time they were interpreted as the end of the world. Sure, one might just be that. But no, it will not. The world will be renewed. And we go from glory to glory.