In our culture there seems to be a fascination with the end times, with the end of the world. In addition to serious theological studies, there are many popular treatments of the end of the world in the movies, on the internet, in television shows, books, magazines, etc. Of course, much of this interest in the United States comes from Christian sources. But not all. One sees material taken from Nostradamus, the Maya and countless numbers of others.
Much Christian thinking about the end times comes the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. This book was written in the late 1st century by the Apostle John, probably from the island of Patmos during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian when the church was undergoing fierce persecution ordered by the Emperor. The book, indeed, talks about the end times in quite startlingly images and language. Since the time the book was written Christians have tried to predict the time of the end of the world through interpreting the words and images in this book. In a certain sense this is not wrong because the Book of Revelation is indeed written to talk about the end times. But time and time again, people have tried to learn, not only the exact time of the end, but also detailed descriptions of the people, places and events of the end times, trying to prove when this will take place. However, Jesus Christ, shortly before his return to heaven said: “…”It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7) Here Christ is clearly telling future generations that they will never know the exact sequence of the end. Many times people have tried to fit the images and language of this book exactly to their own time, which in hindsight, seems silly to us. For example, once the author of these lines was shown a book written in the early 19th century proving that every detail in the Book of Revelation specifically pointed to Napoleon as the one who is bringing about the end of the world. And of course, before and after this time Christians have seen different historical figures as the Antichrist, who will come before the end and do horrible things. So different persecutors have been called Antichrist: Attila the Hun, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, etc. so trying to use this book as a book of details of the immediate future. So there was every reason to read this book in times of persecution. Doing this shows us the real meaning of this book is to comfort and strengthen Christians undergoing persecution. As said above, this work was written at the time of the persecution ordered by the Emperor Diocletian and it does brings comfort to Christian undergoing persecution. Indeed, this is, despite the quite graphic and violent images and language, does give comfort. As St. John writes: “… he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4)
This book tells us that ultimately, God is in charge, and will finally save His faithful people.
Of course, one reason that God does not tell us either the time of our own death or the end of the world is so that we will always been vigilant. This is not to say that God is trying to frighten us, but rather to prevent us getting lazy in living the Christian life. Christ told us through parables about vigilance. For example:
“Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, `My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (Matthew 24:45-51)
In this parable, as well as others, Christ tells us always be vigilant, but concerning our own end and the end of the world.
But again, Christ is not trying to frighten us. The whole meaning of the Book of Revelation is one of hope. It tells us that no matter the suffering which we personally experience and the whole world experiences, God is in charge. One of the most touching verses of the Bible is found in Revelation 21:4 “… he will wipe away every tear from their eyes…” This is what God has instore for each of us and for the whole world.