20 September 2012

The Four Horsemen, comic-book style.

Part 2 of my analysis of Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley’s interpretation of the End Times in There’s a New World Coming.

Because I don’t believe in the pre-Tribulation rapture, various Christians have asked me whether I believe in the rapture, in Jesus’s return, at all. They’ve so associated the Dispensationalist theory of the End with fact—much like evolutionists associate Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection with fact—that if you don’t believe it, you might not even believe in Christ Jesus. Or you might, but you’re one of those hopeless theological liberals who want to call yourselves Christian, but don’t believe anything in the bible, and believe what you choose.

It’s not really a matter of my not believing in the pre-Trib rapture. I’d like to believe it—I’d love to be out of here when the antichrists are slaughtering Christians! But it’s simply not biblical. Not in the bible. At all. Zero evidence for it. Entirely made up. Invented by the Dispensationalists, and swallowed whole by people who neither know the bible nor have looked at Revelation. The only way Dispensationalists can defend it is by ignoring the facts, bending them, or inventing them.

Oh, but they’ve invented a lot. I remind you, once again, of the End Times Timeline.

The green arrow upward is of the rapture. The yellow arrow downward is of Jesus’s Second Coming. These are one and the same thing. The verses that say so are found at 1 Thessalonians 4.16-18, which the Timeline puts next to the green arrow. What verses are connected with the yellow arrow? Well, pretty much all of Revelation: Dispensationalists assume the entire book, after Jesus’s statements to the seven churches, takes place after the rapture. That’s why my previous post had gone through several pages of There’s a New World Coming without the book touching upon Revelation yet.

So this means Revelation happens entirely in the future. That’s a very problematic interpretation. I point you to chapter 12.

Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun… She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth. … She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne.

—John, Revelation 12.1-2, 5 NLT

This’d be the birth of Jesus. Any Christian with half a brain can see that. And it happens in the middle of the book. Ah, but the text goes on.

Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.

—John, Revelation 12.7-9 NLT

This’d be the Angelic Fall. Most theologians are pretty sure it took place before humanity’s fall—because the devil was the serpent which tempted Eve, so they figure Satan must’ve gone wrong and rebelled against God before human history got started.

Now, I don’t believe the Angelic Fall looks at all like Paradise Lost, where Satan foolishly tries to overthrow the Almighty, forgetting that—duh—he’s Almighty. There’s a lot of mythology mixed up in the Angelic Fall story. I believe, as Revelation depicts it, Satan got tossed from heaven after the birth of Jesus—that when Jesus saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning, (Lk 10.18) he used a present-tense verb because it was happening right then: Jesus’s followers were, at the time, proclaiming Jesus throughout Israel, and “they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony.” (Rv 12.11 NLT)

But that’s a bit of sidetrack. My point is we have two events in Revelation which clearly don’t take place in the future, but have already happened. And why should we assume they’re the only two?

Preterism is the idea that the events of Revelation refer to the past, not the future. Some Christians believe that’s true of every event in Revelation—that the book is entirely about things that were taking place in the first century, when John wrote it, and the only things that haven’t happened yet are Jesus’s return, the Millennium, and New Earth and New Jerusalem. I don’t agree with them; I believe some events, if not many events, are yet to come. Dispensationalists will call me a “partial preterist” because of this.

But not even Dispensationalists believe Jesus’s birth and the Angelic Fall are future events. Instead, they’ll just pretend Revelation 12 isn’t there. Or they’ll plead ignorance as Tim LaHaye did in his novel The Indwelling, one of the books in his Left Behind series. In it, his character Tsion ben Judah—an orthodox Jew who became a Christian and miraculously invented Dispensationalism all over again—is given a vision where he’s taken to heaven to watch events from Revelation 12 for himself. Then the angel Gabriel shows up to take questions. Starting on page 300:

“Can you tell me, who is the woman? Is it Mary, or is it Israel?”

“Yes and yes.”

“That was not as helpful as I had hoped.”

“When you ponder it, you will find it so.”

“And the twelve stars on her head. Do they represent the tribes of Israel?”

“Or…?” Gabriel prodded.

“Or the… the apostles?”

“Yes and yes.”

“Somehow I knew you were going to—so these things mean whatever we want or need them to mean?”

“No. They mean what they mean.”

“Uh-huh.”

But in the novels, which follow the End Times Timeline, “when you ponder it,” to quote Fake Gabriel, you won’t find it so. You’ll find it useless. It has no bearing on the rest of the books. It’s there because the books treat Revelation as if it’s in chronological order, so they have to deal with chapter 12, and this is how they do it—by turning it into a Gnostic mystery that means what it means, and doesn’t help Ben Judah any. Whenever you find a Dispensationalist who can’t admit he doesn’t know it all, you’ll find he starts to get all Zen on you.

Unlike the actual book of Revelation, where the angels explained everything to John that he asked—but had him not write it down if they didn’t want the explanation shared with the rest of Christendom. Unlike Jesus, who explained his parables whenever his students asked him what on earth he meant.

Well. I could rant on, but you probably want some comic book panels by now.

Previously we saw the Lamb—whom we universally recognize as Jesus—take the double-sided, seven-sealed scroll and start snapping seals off. He removes one seal…

…and out pops the boogeyman.

The word “antichrist” isn’t actually anywhere in Revelation. You’ll find it in 2 John 7-11, where it refers to pretty much anyone who’s against Christ. There have been a lot of antichrists throughout history. But Dispensationalists talk about the Antichrist, a specific person who’s going to deceive the whole world, and try to get everyone to follow him, even worship him, as if he’s Christ. In Revelation it’s called the therĂ­on, which means “wild animal,” and is usually translated “beast.” More than likely it’s the same person as the “lawless one” in 2 Thessalonians 2.8-9. Just as there have been a lot of antichrists, there are also a lot of beasts running about in Revelation. But Antichrist usually means this specific beast.

Antichrist makes Dispensationalists really nervous. To be fair, he makes a lot of Christians nervous, but Dispensationalists especially nervous. Most of them teach Antichrist is not just gonna claim to be Christ, but is going to attempt to do many of the same things Jesus did in order to prove he fulfills all the Messianic prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. Generally, they expect Antichrist to be to Jesus as Bizarro is to Superman: If Jesus did it, they believe Bizarro Jesus will do precisely the same thing, only opposite, or evil.

As a result, a lot of Dispensationalists are expecting Antichrist to also be born in Bethlehem, also be a descendant of King David (or at least fake it really convincingly), and just as Jesus is God incarnate, they figure Antichrist will be the devil incarnate. (This despite Revelation 13.1-2, which states the beast and dragon are two separate beings.) To them, Antichrist will be, or at least appear to be, as powerful as Jesus. Only evil.

One dirty little secret belief Dispensationalists have about Antichrist is that he’s going to be a Jew. They avoid saying this as much as possible, because they know it sounds anti-Semitic. It’s not meant to be anti-Semitic: Messiah can only be a Jew, and it stands to reason anyone pretending to be Messiah would also be a Jew. And Dispensationalists love Jews. (No, seriously, they do; Jews are a huge part of the End Times Timeline, and I’ll get to that.) So the last thing they’d want to do is alienate Jews by letting slip that they believe a Jew is going to be evil incarnate.

Well. The evil-incarnate idea naturally gives Christians the willies, as it did to me when I used to believe all this stuff. But bear in mind the devil’s power has been greatly exaggerated by all the myths about it. Likewise Antichrist’s power has been greatly exaggerated by Dispensationalist paranoia. (And maybe that movie The Omen). Antichrist will have no more power than Satan does, and the devil has no more power than your average tin-horn warlord. Now, that doesn’t mean powerless: Kim Jong Un, fr’instance, can have anyone in his country tortured, and can have atomic weapons built. But Kim is still susceptible to guns or disease, and the devil can still get smacked around by Jesus.

Okay, but let’s ask a more basic question: Is this guy on the white horse Antichrist? The text doesn’t say what he is. It only says he’s a conqueror, with a crown and a firearm, and he’s off to conquer. (Rv 6.1-2)

When I was a kid, I had Arthur S. Maxwell’s The Bible Story, a ten-volume illustrated bible for kids. Naturally, I read Maxwell’s version of Revelation, which interprets the book from an Adventist perspective. (Adventist theology has its own issues, but it’s way more accurate than Dispensationalism.) And Maxwell believed the rider on the white horse is Christ, not Antichrist. His thinking is that a white horse appears later in Revelation, ridden by Jesus, who returns to earth wearing crowns and kicking ass. (Rv 19.11-16) Adventists figure this is precisely the same horse and rider. Dispensationalists say this can’t be the same horse and rider, because that would mess up their entire End Times Timeline. Remember the End Times Timeline? Do not mess with it. It’s sacred.

And according to the sacred Timeline, the guy on the white horse can’t be Jesus, ’cause Jesus is up in heaven with all the raptured Christians. But since he’s on a white horse, just like the horse Jesus has, he must therefore be a fake Jesus—i.e. an Antichrist. Get it? He’s Bizarro Christ.

The kid who looks like Freddy from Scooby-Doo points out that, since Jesus is the Prince of Peace, Bizarro Jesus will logically be the Prince of Fake Peace. He’ll pretend to be peaceful—but instead it’s just a ruse to conquer the world. ’Cause that’s how he’ll conquer: With peace. Bizarro!

In putting their beliefs into practice, I find Dispensationalists regularly mix up who’s Jesus and who’s Bizarro. Jesus conquers with peace. But since Dispensationalists are so paranoid about the Bizarro Jesus notion of Antichrist, a lot of them have become absolutely against anything that tries to bring peace to our world. I’m not kidding. Whenever the President talks about ending wars, or peace treaties, or trying to reach out to other countries with diplomacy instead of guns, the Dispensationalist reaction is nearly always: “That’s Antichrist talk. Blessed are the peacemakers? F--- that; it’s a trick.”

How messed up is it, when acting like Jesus gets you accused of being evil incarnate? But then again, it happened to Jesus himself, who had to warn Pharisees who did this how they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit. (Mk 3.28-29)

I tend to lean towards the idea the first horseman is Jesus. Not just ’cause I grew up reading Maxwell’s interpretation of the End, but because I believe the horsemen are meant to represent the time period between the New Testament and the End. The white horse represents Christianity. The other horses represent the persecutions Christianity suffered, and suffers, throughout history. The other events connected with the other seals represent God’s message and God’s children, spreading his message over the world despite this savage persecution. It fits the context of those scriptures.

Dispensationalist interpretation prefers to ignore context, and stick to the Timeline. That’s why Freddy says the Lamb snaps off the second seal “midpoint in the time of troubles,” even though Revelation gives no hint of such a thing.

It’s obvious the red horse and rider (Rv 6.3-4) represent war. It says so. But it represents war in general. There’s no indication at all from the text that this is a specific war, smack dab in the middle of the Great Tribulation, and that Israel is getting attacked. Yet every Dispensationalist teaches a mid-Trib attack on Israel. Why? If it’s not found in Revelation, where does this idea even come from?

From the Dispensationalist practice of cherry-picking the bible for End Times prophecies. If the End Times Timeline has holes in it, you have to fill the holes with something, and it can’t be pure conjecture. So what they do is read the Old Testament books of the Prophets. First they find a prophecy that they’re pretty sure hasn’t been fulfilled yet—and such prophecies are very easy to find when you don’t know jack squat about history. Since it’s not yet been fulfilled—but it’s in the bible, and the bible is from God—it will be fulfilled. Probably in the End. It has to be. What, are you calling God a liar?

Yeah, you can easily poke a thousand holes in that logic, but Dispensationalists run with it and try to cram a lot of OT prophecies into their Timeline. And any casual reader of the Prophets will notice, a lot of their prophecies have to do with Israel. And Israel’s belligerent neighbors. Who are, at various points in history, planning to invade Israel from the east, north, south, the Mediterranean, the sky above and the underground beneath. Pretty much every freaking direction. So Dispensationalists project these prophecies of ancient attacks into the future: During the End Times, just as everyone’s saying, “Hey, check it out: world peace!” that’s when Israel’s just gonna get hammered.

And who’s gonna lead this evil army? The Commies. ’Cause Communists are atheists, and atheists are anti-God, and so they have to be anti-Israel, right? And if you fiddle with some of the wording in the Old Testament prophecies, we can prove that “Gog of Magog” refers to ancient Russia—even though Magog was likely the Caucasus Mountains, mostly found in present-day Georgia. But some are on the southernmost part of Russia. So, Russia. As for China… well, it’s impossible to find China in the bible. But they’re Commies too, right? They gotta be in their somewhere. And since the Arabs don’t like Israel now, and the lands the Arabs currently occupy didn’t, in ancient times, seem to like Israel then either, they gotta be in there somewhere.

Hal Lindsey firmly believed the current events of the 1970s foretold the End. The problem with historical forces is that they keep changing. Those atheistic Communist countries don’t exist anymore. China has more Christians than the United States. The Soviet Union broke up into a bunch of countries that are nominally Christian, although they have about as many atheists, percentage-wise, as the rest of Europe. Which, despite all their plans for the European Union, are hardly a revived Roman Empire.

Basically, the Dispys have invented a End Times scenario that isn’t found in the bible, and that’s overlaid upon the Four Horsemen passage by Lindsey and other like-minded folks. In order to defend it, you’ve gotta rejigger history, current events, and the bible like crazy. But any good conspiracy theorist, or Dispensationalist, will be up to the challenge. That’s why Lindsey keeps selling books, you know.

Third seal: Black horse.

The rider carries scales and charges a lot for food. (Rv 6.5-6) Lindsey interprets this as the bleak economic results of this specific End Times anti-Israel war.

Of course, it could also be the result of everyone losing their jobs as a result of any old economic disaster. Say, fr’instance, financiers convinced Congress to deregulate their industry. Then they repackaged overvalued mortgages and sold them to people who couldn’t really afford them. Then they bought insurance, lest the bubble burst and people defaulted on their mortgages. And once the bubble did burst, they were fine, but banks went under, stocks lost value, businesses went under, jobs shriveled up, nobody could get loans, and the economy went all to hell. Sound familiar?

No, I’m not saying our situation is Revelation’s prophecy. I’m not a Dispensationalist. Economic recessions happen. The Great Depression was far worse. There have been many depressions in American history, and famines throughout human history. These things happen. They don’t mean the End has come.

More likely, since this part of Revelation is actually about Christians under persecution, it’s about how hard it is to afford things once you’re forced to go underground to escape persecution. Work is hard to come by. Food isn’t cheap.

Fourth seal: Pale horse.

Death and Hades come next, (Rv 6.7-8) and they’re put in charge of a quarter of the earth. That doesn’t necessarily mean they kill it. But that does give you a good idea about how much mayhem and martyrdom takes place within this scenario. A quarter of the earth naturally includes a quarter of the Christians. Or more, in parts of the world where there are more Christians per capita.

But Dispensationalists teach Christians won’t be killed. We’ll have been raptured long before all this horrible stuff happens. That’s why the Dispensationalist interpretation is so very popular: We escape persecution. The Four Horsemen go wild on everyone else—all the pagans who were left behind.

Trouble is, when you read the text for what it actually says, it suggests we Christians are in for a lot of suffering, and a mighty hard time. I much prefer the Left Behind idea, as I said. It really appeals to my flesh. No suffering for Jesus, no persecution, no deprivation, no hunger and want and poverty. Just heaven. All my comfort and material needs sated.

Now, how would John’s audience—the first-century Christians of the seven churches—have understood Revelation? After all, he wrote it more for them than for us. Would they have assumed they’d be raptured before the Great Tribulation came? Or would they assume they were already in the Tribulation? Would they read of the Four Horsemen and respond, “Oh, that’s for the post-rapture future,” or, “Yep, that’s precisely what I’m going through right now—come Lord Jesus!”

Which brings us to the next verses: After Jesus cracks the fifth seal, all the slaughtered Christians ask God, “How long will it be till you judge the earth?” And the Lord’s reply is, “Not yet.” (Rv 6.9-11)

Lindsey believed the Four Horsemen are his judgment. So, no surprise, that verse isn’t in There’s a New World Coming. It’ll mess too much with the Timeline. Instead, Lindsey teaches just the opposite: The Four Horsemen are sent by God to judge all the pagans who rejected God and weren’t raptured.

Lindsey pulled Jesus’s comments from Luke out of context, and referred to the nations rising against nations, the famines and plagues and signs from heaven. (Lk 21.10-11) But while Lindsey believed Christians were exempt from all this, Jesus stated, right after he foretold of various disasters,

But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.

—Jesus, Luke 21.12-19 NLT

That’s why I’m convinced the Four Horsemen represent Christian persecution. Not judgment on the pagans.

After all, what is this scroll the Lamb was unsealing? It’s God’s plan for the End. It’s not the End itself. So as the seals were snapped open, the events that led up to the End are shown to John. There’s Jesus’s conquest of sin. Violent attempts to stop it. Suffering and need. Death and Hades. Dead Christians. Then nations rising against nations, famines, plagues, and signs from heaven. These are all things we’ve seen before. We teach them in our history classes.

But once that last seal is removed, the scroll opens and God’s plan for the End is implemented. Then we see battles in heaven, trumpets, bowls, and the birth of Jesus in chapter 12. Not because it happens next, but because it’s part of the plan for the End. Revelation is not in chronological order. Ditch the Timeline. Read the bible.

Next time: The final three seals.