If you were practicing the faith in the days of yore when the American hippies and the Jesus People roamed the land, you might just remember the Christian end-time movies A Thief in the Night (1972) and A Distant Thunder (1978). If you haven’t yet had a chance to see these flicks, you’ve missed the exciting prototypes in the very strange genre of religious horror – anti-Christ, mark of the beast, and guillotines included.
As a young and impressionable child, I was unlucky enough to get my hands on the VHS tapes of these two 70s films. Bad idea! After watching the first of the two, a mind-blowing nightmare kicked off when my head hit the pillow. In my dream I found myself trapped in the middle of a burning city, buildings collapsing all around me, and giants fireballs raining down from the black sky. It was the end of the world, Jesus had returned, and I had been left behind!
Little did I know, these movies had preserved very little of what the Bible describes regarding Jesus’ second coming. All of this dramatizing was incredibly traumatizing for a kid like me who knew next-to-nothing about legitimate “end time” theology. Somehow, I had come under the delusion that Jesus was coming back to take away the Christians, destroy all the unbelievers, and end the world with a blockbuster firestorm. (At that time, I wasn’t convinced that I’d be eligible for a ticket to ride when the J-train came around.) Luckily, I woke up with the sun the next morning, my family members were all still snuggled in their beds as they were every other morning, and all was good in the hood.
So what does the Bible actually say will happen when Jesus returns? Buckle your safety belts – sometimes reality is better than fiction.
A Little Game
As we proceed, I have a short game for us to play. Here are the directions: Use the “Paradigm” below as the structure for a story that you are going to create. Using the 10 “Particulars” listed below the Paradigm, try to figure out how each particular fact could rationally fit into the Paradigm storyline. The ultimate goal is to attempt to tell one story from beginning to end by using every one of the 10 Particulars in the context of the Paradigm storyline. If you can make all 10 Particulars fit, you win! Here you go.
Paradigm: A man went to movie theater for two hours to watch a movie, and then went home for the rest of the day.
1. He bought some popcorn.
2. He unlocked the front door.
3. He put his mask on.
4. He tripped over a mystery person’s feet at he attempted to walk pass them.
5. He leaned back in his recliner.
6. He threw his mask off mediated a fight between two teenagers wearing gloves only on their right hands.
7. He laughed out loud and spilled an unusually large cup of soda.
8. He read the newspaper.
9. He held up his pointer and middle fingers with his right, and only his pointer finger with his left hand.
10. He grabbed an apple from the plastic drawer.
Attempt to finish the game by fitting the Particulars into the provided Paradigm storyline, creating one big story. Give it your best shot, and then read forward to see how well you did.
Checking the Results
Was that game fairly confusing? I’m sure some of the Particulars were easy to fit into the Paradigm you were provided with. For example, the fact “He bought some popcorn” fits neatly within the “movie theater” portion of our Paradigm storyline. You may have said something like, “The man went to the movie theater, bought some popcorn and soda at the concession stand, tripped over a person’s feet when he walked toward his seat in the dark, and spilled his drink while laughing at the movie he was watching.” You may have also noticed that the statements “He unlocked his front door,” “He leaned back in his recliner,” and “He grabbed an apple from the plastic drawer” would best fit well in the context of the man’s own home – the last portion of the story Paradigm. However, what about some of the other Particulars? Some were much more obstinate, feeling very much like a forced-fit. For example, where does the “mask” fit in? Why would the man raise his fingers on his hands? Why would this man be breaking up a fighting between one-gloved teenagers? It just doesn’t seem to make sense.
Ultimately, I would guess that you aren’t in any way certain that your guesses were accurate. If it’s true that you are feeling uncertain about the previous game, then the purpose of our game was fulfilled! The problem with your performance is that you were provided with a faulty Paradigm – a storyline that was missing one very important piece of the puzzle. Let’s try this game again, but this time let me give you a complete and accurate Paradigm.
Revised Paradigm: A man went to movie theater for two hours to watch a movie, he went to umpire a little league game for one hour, and then went home for the rest of the day.
Now, using this Revised Paradigm, go back up and try to deal with all 10 of the Particulars. If you think very carefully, I’m sure you’ll now be able to make sense of ALL of the Particulars in your new, revised story.
So Does the Earth Blow Up When Jesus Returns?
Switching back to our main theme for this article, is the Earth going to blow up at Jesus’ second coming? What can we expect, seeing that we’re all kind of dragged along by the flow of history? Well, the Bible sure has a lot to say about the return of Jesus and all that happens after He comes back. The Old and New Testament writers alike provide a host of facts about this topic. What do we do with all of the Particulars (facts) that we find in the Bible? As truth-seekers, we must go to the Bible and attempt to figure out how all of these God-given facts can make sense in a rational storyline. The real trick is finding the complete and accurate Paradigm into which we can insert all of the Particulars, making a rational whole. In the end, if you find that correct Paradigm, you will a divine storyline that leaves no portion of Scripture behind.
One Paradigm Versus Another
Many say that there is no real Paradigm that can easily deal with all of the Particulars. This is easy to say for those who haven’t yet experienced the correct Paradigm. A person never knows what they don’t know. On the other hand, a person who has found the correct paradigm will find it very exasperating watching another who persists in using a faulty Paradigm, stumbling over obvious interpretations as if he were walking around with a blindfold on.
So what is your situation like? Is your paradigm able to effectively deal with the following passages of Scripture, making sense of each and every prediction and promise without throwing any out the window?
1. Zechariah 14:1-21
2. Ezekiel 37:15-39:29
3. Revelation 11:1-2
4. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
5. Matthew 24:15-42
6. Revelation 19:11-20:10
7. Revelation 20:11-22:21
8. Jeremiah 23:1-8
9. Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:1-16
10. Isaiah 62:11-65:20
After analyzing these verses in your Bibles, do you find yourself getting frustrated by the Particulars that you are reading? If so, maybe it’s time to give another paradigm a try. After all, you saw how productive the Revised Paradigm was in the game above. Maybe there is another storyline structure that is more capable of dealing with the details.
For the serious theologians and truth-seekers out there, I urge you not to blow this off. Take the time to read these texts. Ponder over them. If, after an honest evaluation, you feel unsatisfied with your current handling of these 10 portions of Scripture, you may find it helpful to look for a new, more biblical Paradigm. God is perfect in all that He does, and He doesn’t want you to be confused. Trust Him, and have faith to believe that He can show you the right way to look at eschatology and the Old Testament prophecies. If you start from a foundation of faith, you will find that you have the inspiration to look for and find the correct Paradigm. On the other hand, if you don’t believe that God has made things understandable, you will not have the motivation to look for answers. Have faith!
Syncing Up with God’s Paradigm
So how do we find our way to a Paradigm that actually works? I propose that we use the framework God has provided us with in Revelation 19:11-22:21 and Zechariah 14. Revelation is an New Testament passage and Zechariah is an Old Testament passage – and both work together perfectly! These two passages are God’s perfect solution for helping us establish a powerfully-effective chronological “Paradigm” for making sense of all of the eschatological “Particulars” found scattered throughout the Bible. When used together, these two passages of Scripture create an excellent framework for “end times” studies that actually works.
I speak from experience as one who moved from a place of total confusion to a place of amazement as I watched the Particulars fall into their places like the pieces of a well-fitted puzzle. With this, I encourage you to read these passages of Scripture today and sync-up with God’s Paradigm. Just like out little game and the productivity of using the “Revised Paradigm,” you might be surprised at how the pieces all start to fit together into a rational whole when you use God’s Paradigm for your end time studies. Cheers!
1. What happens in Revelation 19:11-21? Is this Jesus’ second coming?
2. Read what happens next in Revelation 20:1-6. Describe what happens here in God’s timeline? Where does this take place? Has your preferred Paradigm taken this into consideration? If not, might this help you make sense of many of the “confusing” Old Testament prophecies? Is our same old Earth still here at this time? Did the world actually “blow up” when Jesus returned?
3. According to Revelation 20:7-10, what is next on God’s timeline? What is the “beloved city” mentioned here? Is this city in Heaven or on our normal planet Earth? Explain your answer by using evidence from the text.
4. What happens next? (Read Revelation 20:11-15.) Is this resurrection different than the resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6? (Does Acts 24:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, and John 5:28-29 agree with Revelation’s timeline?)
5. Read Revelation 21:1-22:21 to see what happens to believers in the end. Do you think that 2 Peter 3:1-16 provides helpful information regarding what happens to the old “heavens and earth”? Can the city referred to in Revelation 21:2 be the same city as “the beloved city” mentioned in Revelation 20:7-9? Why or why not?
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