Investigating the events of the last days can be an exercise in bewilderment. The diversity of views on the subject is staggering, ranging from the vaguest of fluffy generalisations right through to borderline-crazy conspiracy theories.
This post is the first in a new series that aims to distil the end times into short, bite-size chunks which can easily be understood by the Bible reader. I plan to develop the series in three main stages:
Review "last days" passages, confirming the latter-day application of the passage and commenting on the text itself (mostly translation points)
Collate the events described by identifying repeated words, phrases, and ideas.
Discuss the potential order of events (and any implicit assumptions)
I've anecdotally observed that a lot of Bible prophecy exposition relies on somewhat abstract symbology. Whilst the Bible clearly delivers prophetic edict in the language of symbol, it does not do so exclusively. It is perfectly possible to build a decent view of the "latter days" without getting bogged down in symbology.
Using plain-language prophecy first allows major themes to emerge as a foundation for later analysis. Symbols can then be reviewed in light of already established facts.
My personal interest in prophecy started young, as my Dad worked hard to understand what might lie between the present day and the final realisation of God's plan. I owe much of my interest in the subject to his infectious enthusiasm.
As I grew older I came into contact with more and more diverse views on the last days. Some interpretations seemed outlandish, others overly simplistic, and a great many seemed to be perfectly plausible variations on a common theme.
Several years ago I found myself reading a passage in Corinthians, and I initially read it as an insight into the nature of prophecy:
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face..." - 1 Cor 13v12
After investigating the context of this passage I concluded that it's actually describing the knowledge of God that would come after the Holy Spirit Gifts ceased, rather than prophecy; but it set me thinking about what we do know, or rather, what we can know about future events described in the Bible.
Which brings us to an intriguing paradox that will inevitably define and govern all our considerations on the subject.
The Last Days Paradox
Scripture is clear that knowledge of certain last days events is, to some extent, limited. For example, no man knows when Christ will return, for it will be as a thief in the night. Yet even here, the very next verse of Thessalonians makes it clear that believers should be sufficiently enlightened to be unsurprised when events of this period actually unfold.
On a more philosophical level, it seems somewhat disingenuous to acknowledge that God spent a great deal of paper-space telling us about the latter days, only to then suggest that "we can't know what's going to happen".
Why? Are we not reading carefully enough? Or perhaps these prophecies are not actually trying to tell us about the events of the last days? Is there an entirely different lesson in these passages to which we've hitherto been ignorant?
Only a careful analysis of what the Bible really tells us can answer these questions.
Returning to the Corinthians passage that initially piqued my interest, the issue now furrowing my brow was "exactly how 'dark' is the glass of last days prophecy?"
Perhaps it is the case that peering through Scripture we can only vaguely perceive the outline of major events in the end times. Or maybe the glass is actually clearer than we realise, and it is really only finer details that cannot be distinguished from the gloom on this side of the prophetic glass.
To solve the puzzle and balance the paradox we must come to an understanding of what the Bible does, and more importantly doesn't, say about the last days. This series aims to provide the material, analysis and conclusions I reached while answering these questions.
Next: Zechariah 14
Aside: "a glass darkly" is an interesting phrase describing the viewing of one's reflection in a burnished metal mirror, rather than what we might think of now with our modern concept of glass.