Hi and welcome back! Evangelicals think a lot about the end of the world, but current events have had them thinking about it more than ever. Today, let me introduce you to a little something they call The Endtimes.
The Endtimes, Defined.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 it’s all foretold turn to the Bible. Isaiah 46:10 it’s all in his hands. Take care of yourself.
One of the more common beliefs in evangelicalism involves how the world will end. Many evangelicals believe that it’ll end in a series of catastrophes that they’ve come to call the Endtimes. In turn, they think, these catastrophes will lead to the return of Jesus to Earth, the final defeat of Satan, Jesus’ slate-wiping of the entire cosmos, and the ushering-in of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to a very boring-sounding afterlife. Meanwhile, of course, Jesus condemns everyone else to an eternity of torture while Christians point and laugh.
Officially, religious folks call the study of the end of the world eschatology, but evangelicals seem to vastly prefer the more folksy, down-home sound of the Endtimes (sometimes they spell it end times, and I wonder if they do so because it sounds ever-so-slightly less wingnutty).
Over many years, evangelicals have built up quite a library of pseudoscience and junk history around the Endtimes. In the process, they waste time making predictions about the progression of specific events that’ll totally lead to the end of the world.
This topic greatly excites and titillates many evangelicals. They love feeling like they know something nobody else knows. When they warn people about the end of the world and get mocked or rebuffed, they feel that little tingly thrill of persecution and martyrbation — and of being mounted on a moral high horse.
Also: in all of Christianity, you will not ever behold diagrams as amazing as the ones that accompany Endtimes fantasies.
How Endtimes Fantasies Work.
Mostly, it’s logical Christians faffing about with Endtimes fantasies. Indeed, these folks are the tribe’s worst conspiracy theorists. They see prophecies in every news headline and demons lurking behind every bush.
Using a few key index Bible verses, they scour headlines and social media to find anything that even vaguely fits in with those verses. For example, Idaho began having some tremors a few weeks ago. Immediately afterward, evangelicals swarmed news sites and video channels bleating about “earthquakes in divers places.” That’s a specific phrase from the Gospels in the Bible, and one offered up by Jesus himself as a sign of the Endtimes (among many other signs).
Evangelicals think that one day, all of those vague conditions will be met very specifically. That’s when the world will well and truly begin to end.
As Endtimes conspiracy theorists see it, their job is to keep track of world events and tally them up with the tribe’s library of fanfiction on the topic. Through this busy-work, they hope to make informed (LOL), educated (ROFL) predictions about exactly when things start gettin’ real (ROFLMAO).
When the world starts to end, they typically plan to hunker down in ranch homes filled with dehydrated food and (presumably non-dehydrated) guns, run for the hills, and evangelize extra-dextra hard.
How Common Are Endtimes Fantasies?
When I myself was evangelical in the 1980s and 1990s, literally everyone I knew in that end of Christianity believed in the idea of the Endtimes. Sure, they differed on details. But they all bought the idea in general.
Nowadays, it’s harder to say exactly how common Endtimes beliefs are among the flocks. But we can read between the lines.
As one might expect, belief in the Endtimes intersects to a great degree with evangelicals’ obsession with Israel. They intersect so much that when LifeWay did a survey about evangelicals’ attitudes about Israel, they asked evangelicals if Israel’s rebirth as a country in 1948 fulfilled Endtimes prophecies. 80% of their respondents thought it did. A few weeks ago, another LifeWay survey (this one of just pastors) found that almost all respondents believed in the Endtimes.
We can also check out popular evangelical leaders like Jim Bakker, who freely and frequently refers to Donald Trump in his Endtimes fantasies.
Or we can check out more level-headed writeups on the topic, like this article from Salon.
So yeah, it seems pretty dang common still in evangelicalism.
How Endtimes Fantasists Think This’ll Work.
Really, there’s as much variation among Endtimes fantasists about the exact order of events as there is among Harry Potter fans about their various theories.
Here’s the gist of it, though.
At some point, the Earth will go through a complete upheaval that’ll last exactly seven years.
Amid a great number of unprecedented natural disasters, the world’s political powers will finally hit the end of their patience. A super-charismatic tyrant (the Antichrist) will come to power at that point, unifying the whole world and making it a downright wonderful place. However, part of the Antichrist’s agenda will involve turning the whole world atheistic (or Satanic, or New Age-y, or whatevs). Since TRUE CHRISTIANS™ would never ever go along with that idea, he’ll institute a vast persecution of them (the Tribulation).
At some point in there, Jesus will Rapture his favorite, most obedient Christians away. They’ll fly up into the clouds, leaving their clothes behind. But the Rapture might happen before, during, or after the Tribulation (called, respectively, pre-, mid-, and post-Tribulation; however, sometimes you hear these called millennial teachings).
After the Tribulation, Jesus will rally up the angels and go to war with Satan and his legions at the last battle, called Armageddon. The armies of the Antichrist will be there too. Satan and the Antichrist will, of course, totally lose that fight.
Oh, and at some point Jesus will preside over court trials for every single human who’s ever lived. The ones he likes go to Heaven, while everyone else goes to Hell.
Jesus might rule a brief time over a restored Earth, but eventually he destroys it all.
And by the way, every single topic mentioned in this subsection is hotly contested by oodles of conspiracy theorists.
(HOW HOW HOW? Just HOW could I not be fascinated with this stuff? I’ve been giggling like a loon for hours now today.)
Quite possibly, this is the granddaddy of all the Endtimes diagrams. Clarence Larkin, a Baptist minister who loved him some Jesus-flavored conspiracy theories, drew it and many related ones around the Victorian Age.
For good reason, he titled this diagram “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks.”
Most Endtimes enthusiasts believe that the 9th chapter of the Book of Daniel provides a general time frame for the world’s ending. They think that this chapter describes a 70-week structure of prophecy, but the idea of “weeks” is metaphorical here, not literal — which gives conspiracy theorists a lot of room to maneuver!
Generally speaking, Endtimes enthusiasts think that the first 7 weeks represent 49 literal years. Then, 62 “weeks” represent 434 years. And finally, one week spans another 7 years. Now, since the prophecy itself is usually regarded as beginning around 600 BCE, you’d think the Endtimes would have happened somewhere around, oh, 33 CE!
But here’s the awesome, fiddly part: evangelicals decided that there’s a big gap between the end of the 69th week and the start of the 70th week. That’s where we are right now. When the last week finally begins, that’s the Endtimes and it’ll last exactly seven years.
(Mr. Captain’s head exploded here.)
So Many Diagrams.
Seriously, I love Endtimes diagrams. Christians let themselves go just wild in creating them, and many collect them like rare Batman comic books. Biff had a whole box of them — books and dog-eared crumbling papers that he’d photocopied and scribbled on. I wish I’d grabbed some copies of his hoard while I could.
That said, I’ve got a handful of digital ones for you to peruse!
This one’s very detailed:
Meanwhile, this one goes for broke with colored-in tabs for no reason I can discern:
I don’t remember this one, but it ended up in my diagrams folder. Looks like a Chick tract in a way, doesn’t it?
Someone called Charlie Campbell went for broke on making his as complicated as possible:
And one last one for now. This one also outlines what’ll happen during Jesus’ reign, before he slate-wipes the cosmos!
Most of these diagram-makers lack the charming self-importance and ponderous earnestness of the classic Larkin diagram, but they all basically say the same sorts of things. 70 Weeks, a sorta intermission week, comparing Bible verses to various points of history, blah blah blah.
A while ago, we had a good time mocking a Christian wingnut who has gone full throttle on Endtimes fantasizing. Every single time his prediction doesn’t turn out, he just rejiggers them with more-current world events to make a new one.
That’s about how it works generally in this part of Christianity.
I noticed as a Pentecostal that my tribe liked to play Pin the Tail on the Antichrist — whoever the world’s Big Bad was at the time, that’s who we were totally for sure positive was the antichrist who’d help end the world! (Incidentally, Donald Trump was one of the major candidates in my church.) Once that candidate very obviously couldn’t be the one, the tribe would just leap ahead to the next one. It’s like they never even remembered there’d ever been other ones.
So you can bet that with the news these days filled with stories about the pandemic, increasing hatred for Republicans and their regressive policies, and decreasing Christian credibility in general, evangelicals’ starry eyes turn to their favorite Get-Out-of-Uncomfortable-Realities-Free card.
Trying to Calm the Flocks.
Since my deconversion, as well, I’ve seen some evangelical leaders try to cool their followers’ jets. An advice column from Focus on the
Culture Wars Family provides a good example of how this is usually done. In it, their writer tells a fretful Christian:
As Peter sees it, end-time Christians are called to do one thing: they are to practice holiness and do good to others wherever and whenever they can.
But if evangelicals could do that, they probably wouldn’t be in such a marked cultural decline. Nor do I think these efforts are terribly successful. After developing a marketing strategy based almost entirely on fear and greed, evangelical leaders nowadays seem to find it difficult to pull back on that throttle.
Can’t you just hear it now?
Whoa whoa whoa there, lil pardners! We wanted you scared enough and mad enough to vote Republican all the time, follow our orders, and give us all your money — not to get completely out of hand like this!
Too late. Wingnut theory states that wingnuts only spiral in one direction.
See, the flocks have diagrams. Nothing can stop them now.
NEXT UP: How Endtimes fantasizing helps evangelicals avoid all that boring stuff Jesus told them to do.
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