Following my interview with “Left Behind” author Jerry Jenkins for The Wittenburg Door, I was placed on Jerry’s press list. Just about every time some apocalyptic action transpired albeit in modern day Babylon (Iraq), Israel or Louisiana, I’d get a news release announcing that Jerry and Timmy were appearing on a particular national news outlet. With a childlike glee, they’d brag about how this particular event can be interpreted in light of their Revelations inspired road map that predicts the onset of Armageddon.
Like many raised as a mainline Protestant, my knowledge of this book was pretty much non-existent. Even at Yale Divinity School, this book received only a cursory reading. Hence, my critique of this group has been limited to making satirical asides that I doubt Hillary Clinton, Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein represent the Beast, and that the concept of white robed believers ascending to heaven en masse strikes me as more cult-like than Christian.
But during Trinity Institute’s conference titled God’s Unfinished Future: Why It Matters Now, I discovered what for many of those in attendance was a fresh scholarly approach to the Book of Revelation thanks to Barbara Rossing, professor of New Testament at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and author of The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation.
While Dr. Rossing did not focus her talk on her recent trip to Israel and Palestine, she mentioned this trip to highlight how her critical reading of Revelation differs radically from those seeking signs of Armageddon based on events transpiring in the Middle East. (As a sheer coincidence, we were on two separate trips to Israel and just happened to attend the same Sunday service at Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. Small world.)
As Dr. Rossing reminded us, while the sensationalist and “nutty” Left Behind books have grabbed the media spotlight and made the bestseller lists, their depiction of the bloody and violent end times differs from how scholars throughout history have interpreted this book. I found much food for thought in Rossing’s reflections on how the Greek words for earth are used throughout the Bible. As she notes, many of the references to the word ‘earth’ in this final chapter of the Bible is translated from the word okumene, which means imperial violence. The other words for earth, which are translated as gaia (dirt) and cosmos (world) are used when the biblical authors reference God’s creation Using these translations of the word earth, Rossing illuminates how in Revelation Chapters 17 and 18 the imperial world that will be destroyed when the Second Coming arrives. She adds that this critique of imperial violence includes violence against the world through our own neglect of God’s creation.
If as Rossing observes the word apocalypse means “pulling back the curtain,” what do events like Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq and global warming reveal for us? How do we read those signs as a people of faith to ensure that no one will be left behind?
According to Rossing, the term prophecy doesn’t mean prediction. Rather, prophetic books such as the Book of Revelation serve as a wake-up call of what will transpire if humanity remains oblivious to the telltale signs from God that something is amiss in our world.
So what is in God’s plan for this world that he created? Quoting a Jewish scholar, Rossing asks, “did God so love the world that he sent World War III?” Or did God so love the world that he sent his only son, Jesus as the lamb of God to die and be resurrected into new life so that all should have everlasting life?
As I sat in a neighboring coffee shop preparing these reflections, I observed a firetruck near Trinity Church. Apparently, shortly after the conclusion of Rossing’s speech, the FDNY was called to Trinity Church’s offices to extinguish a small fire. Coincidence? Log on to Trinity Institute’s website, listen to Rossing’s lecture and you decide.
Becky Garrison is Senior Contributing Editor of The Wittenburg Door and author of the Amazon Short My Memorial, a creative non-fiction piece based on those 9/11 volunteers who find they are unable to move forward.