The Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in 1995,
stressed that John’s seemingly violent prophecy must be read in harmony with the rest of the Bible. God’s justice on the world must also be balanced with what John says in his Gospel, that ‘God so loved the world’ that He sent His Son to save it (John 3:16).
‘But to us [Orthodox], God is like the sun, emanating life, grace and honor,’ the Patriarch stated. ‘Those who cut themselves off from that light find themselves in a hell of their own making.’
In a statement issued by Bartholomew’s office in Constantinople, he added, ‘The future seems to be as uncertain and insecure [today] as it did to the people of the Eastern Mediterranean almost two millennia ago as they read God’s message relayed to them by St. John in the Book of Revelation.
‘Its significance has been reinterpreted by successive generations seeking truth and rational confidence in periods of crisis’ (p. 324-5, T.L. Frazier, A Second Look at the Second Coming).
The figure of the Antichrist has consistently attracted the special attention of many people. Paradoxically, some Christians even seem to be more interested in the coming of the Antichrist than in Christ’s final victory over him.
The eschaton is often understood as a realm of fear: an imminent global catastrophe and devastation. The end of the world is not awaited with eagerness, as it was in early Christianity; rather it is feared and shuddered at with horror.
By contrast, New Testament and patristic eschatology is one of hope and assurance: it was Christ-centred rather than Antichrist-centred. When the apostles speak in their epistles of the nearness of Christ’s Second Coming, they do it with great enthusiasm and hopefulness.
They were not very much interested in the chronological nearness of the Second Coming; more importantly, they lived with a constant feeling of Christ’s presence (the Greek word for “coming”, parousia, also means “presence”).
The early Church lived not by fear at the coming of the Antichrist, but by the joyous expectation of the encounter with Christ when the history of the world would end.
The eschatological “last times” begin at the very moment of the Incarnation of the Son of God and will continue right up until His Second Coming. The “mystery of lawlessness”, of which St Paul speaks, is already “at work” (2 Thess.2:7); it will be more and more clearly revealed in history.
Together with the uncovering of evil, however, there will also be the activity of humanity’s inner preparation to encounter its Saviour. The battle between Christ and the Antichrist will end with the former’s glorious victory.
The sight of Christians is directed to this victory, not to the time of turmoil that will precede it, a time which has, in fact, already begun and may continue for a long time to come.
The end of the world will mean the liberation of humanity from evil, sufferings and death, and its transformation and movement to another mode of existence, whose nature is not yet known to us.
Of this glorious outcome of human history, St Paul speaks as follows: “Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, than shall come to pass the saying written: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor.15:51-54).
Also from this catechism:
Most assuredly, God is not a party to evil, yet evil is somehow under His control: it is God Who sets the boundaries in which evil can operate.
As the opening of the book of Job shows, there is a certain direct and personal relationship between God and the devil (cf. Job 1-2); the nature of this relationship is, however, unknown to us.
According to the mysterious ways of His Providence, and for purposes of edification, God allows evil to act as a means of setting people aright.
This is evident from those parts of Scripture where God is recorded as visiting evil upon people: thus God hardened the heart of Pharaoh (Ex.4:21; 7:3; 14:4); God visited Saul with an evil spirit (1 Sam.16:14; 19:9); God gave the people “statutes that were not good” (Ezek.20:25); God gave the people up to “impurity”, “dishonourable passions” and a “base mind” (Rom.1:24-32).
In all of these instances it is not God Who is the source of evil: in possessing utter power over both good and evil, God can allow evil to operate in order to transform it into a source of virtue and to direct it towards good consequences. He can also use it to deliver people from a yet greater evil.
This is further support to the idea that God Himself is not performing these acts of judgment. But the Left Behind books come from a belief in a deity who will perform these judgments himself for his own glory (see Cat and Dog Theology and God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine).
From page 6 of A Lutheran Response to the Left Behind Series, put out by the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod):
[T]he novels tend to emphasize God’s power, sovereignty, wrath and judgment far more prominently than they do God’s mercy and grace, patience and forgiveness for sinners offered through Jesus Christ.
Another point made is that these books seem to view the Old Testament and its prophecies as if they are to be read apart from Christ and the New Testament. I also noted that the books are starting to take on elements of a holy war, as if Christ’s call to love one’s enemies and not murder them has been set aside.
From page 44 of the LCMS paper The End Times:
Nevertheless, dispensationalist teaching contradicts the Scriptures at many critical points and therefore seriously endangers the pure teaching of the Gospel. . . .
Dispensational premillenialism tends to regard the glory of God as the center of theology, rather than the mercy of God revealed, and yet hidden, in the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world.
The visible manifestations of God’s power at the end of history and obedience to the will of God become the primary foci, instead of the grace of God revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 2:2)–which by faith the Christian regards and accepts as the place of God’s definitive triumph over sin and every evil (in Lutheran theology, the ‘theology of the cross’ as opposed to a ‘theology of glory’).
In earlier parts of these books, we find Buck carrying on a war with Verna Zee, obviously hating her, snarking at and cutting her down at every possible point, yet claiming to love her. But in Note 6 of River of Fire, we read that we are not to hate the sinner “for we are all laden with guilt.”
When converted Bible scholar Tsion Ben-Judah finds his life threatened because he told the world Jesus is the Messiah, he is protected by Michael, one of the Witnesses, the 144,000 Jewish converts to Christianity. Michael has no problem blowing away anyone who might kill Tsion.
While Buck is uneasy with this, still note that Michael is allowed to do this unchecked until the Global Community (Nicolae’s) forces finally find him.
If Christ never lifted His hands to defend Himself, and didn’t allow His disciples to defend His life, why then is one of the 144,000 “Witnesses to Christ” allowed to do it?
When we read the lives of the saints martyred in the days of the Caesars, they might hide from but not murder their oppressors. They knew that if they died, they would rejoice in God’s presence for all eternity.
To be continued….