The Orthodox Faith – The New Testament – Church History (7)

There is always a great interest in the end of the world. From supermarket tabloids to scholarly tomes, it is a subject that never goes away. The sources of such interest ranges from the Mayan calendar to the Bible.

Such interest usually focuses on the violent, chaotic changes that will take place. There will be earthquakes, volcanos eruptions, floods, lightening and so on. Indeed, such imagery is found in the Bible, especially in the Book of Revelation, but also in the Second Epistle of St. Peter. For example,

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!” (2 Peter 3:10-12)

Here we see the elements of fire, and noise.

However, this exclusive focus of the violence of the end is somewhat misplaced. It’s important to remember that God loves the world he created. Of course, this world today is obviously not the paradise that God created. In some mysterious way the world, the cosmos fell into sin and corruption. But at the end of time, after the fire, chaos and violence there will be a great renewal. The only thing that will be “dissolved by fire” is sin and evil. The good will be restored, renewed. As St. Peter wrote, “But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13). The “very good” world of Genesis will be restored, and this world will be a paradise of no sin and death, but joy and life eternal.

We see a similar scenario of destruction and renewal in the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation, the first book of the Bible, was written at the end of the 1st century when Christians were undergoing great persecution under the Roman Empire. In this book Roman, the great persecutor is symbolized by Babylon. It is said of her,

“And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!

It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird; for all nations have drunk the wine of her impure passion, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness.” (Rev 18:2-3)

The fate of Babylon (Rome) is described as follows,

“…so shall her plagues come in a single day, pestilence and mourning and famine,

and she shall be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.” And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and were wanton with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! alas! thou great city, thou mighty city, Babylon! In one hour has thy judgment come.” Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So shall Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and shall be found no more; and the sound of harpers and minstrels, of flute players and trumpeters, shall be heard in thee no more; and a craftsman of any craft shall be found in thee no more; and the sound of the millstone shall be heard in thee no more; and the light of a lamp shall shine in thee no more;

and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall be heard in thee no more; for thy merchants were the great men of the earth, and all nations were deceived by thy sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.” (Rev 18: 8-10, 21-14)

As mentioned earlier, the Book of Revelation was written to comfort Christians undergoing persecution from Rome, symbolized by Babylon. But this has a meaning for all time. Throughout history there have been “new Romes” and “new Babylons” which persecute the church. We can think of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Under such regimes Christians took comfort from the Book of Revelation because it teaches them that no matter how great the persecution, the new Babylon and new Rome will fall and there will be a few, renewed world where sin, death and pain will pass away.

Finally, it should be noted that when it is written that 144,000 will be saved. This number should not be taken literally because this number symbolized fullness, wholeness. It points to the number of all that are saved. God’s salvation would never be limited to such a relatively small number. God’s salvation is for all humanity.

Fr. John