3.3. The signs of the end

3.3. THE SIGNS OF THE END

The Revelation of John, or the Apocalypse of John, is the last and the only entirely prophetic book of the New Testament. Its main theme is the end of the world. Revelation was most likely written around the year 95 AD, when Christianity was heavily persecuted by Roman authorities. The scribe of Revelation is traditionally identified with John the Apostle, while the author of Revelation is undoubtedly Jesus Christ: “What thou seest, write in a book ... I am the first and the last, and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore” (Revelation 1:11, 17-18).

The word “apocalypse” comes from the (Romanized) Greek apokalypsis (apo – “far”; kalyptein – “revelation”), usually translated as “discovery” or “revelation.”25 Thus, the name of the final biblical book denotes its main theme and the purpose of its writing: the mystical description of the future of the Church of Christ and of the entire world (Revelation 1:1). However, in modern culture the word “apocalypse” is synonymous with “catastrophe” or with the end of the world. This is due to the fact that, in addition to the book from the end of the Bible, the word “apocalypse” is also used to designate the period of time within which the events described in the Book of Revelation take place. Instead of “The end is coming!,” people often say “The apocalypse is coming!,” “Judgment Day is at hand!” or “Armageddon approaches!.”

The events and entities which precede the end of the world are frequently called “signs of the end” or “signs of the times.” The signs of the end are described both in the Book of Revelation and in other books of the New Testament. The purpose of the signs of the times is to remind mankind of Parousia. The prophetic texts are dominated by a pessimistic tone, mainly speaking about pain, sufferings, immorality, famine, death, wars and catastrophes. Hence, the phrase “signs of the times” has a meaning of abnormal, negative, evil or catastrophic. But the negativism is not a necessary requirement. A discovery or a technological innovation that makes the fulfillment of a prophecy possible can be seen as a sign of the times as well.

The signs of the times are constantly recycled because every generation of people overrates the importance of contemporary events and ignores or underestimate the importance of the events from the past. Due to this psychological mechanism, the major historical events of the last 2,000 years have been identified, one after another, as clear signs of the forthcoming end. For example, at the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon Bonaparte, as the most important political figure of the world, was believed to be the incarnation of the Antichrist. At the moment Napoleon is no longer identified with the apocalyptic Beast, but his actions, his ascension to power and the wars he fought are still perceived as signs of the times because they fit the general description of Jesus: “Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Luke 21:10).

The signs of the times occur on one of the two levels: on the heavenly (spiritual) level or on the earthly (physical) level. For example, in the verse “he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake” (Revelation 6:12), the opening of the seal by Jesus is an event that occurs in Heaven, inaccessible to man. Any prophetic claim regarding the identification of heavenly signs is a false claim. Instead, the great earthquake, which occurs as a result of the opening of the seal, is an earthly event with which people come into contact and therefore it can be identified.

The prophetic texts refer to a multitude of events, entities and actions, mentioning them either generically (earthquakes, diseases, wars) or explicitly (the Antichrist or the Whore of Babylon). In the light of the role they have in the overall process, the apocalyptic entities and events have a greater or lesser importance. Eschatological research focused predominantly on earthly signs of major importance: the Antichrist and the number 666 (Revelation 13), the falling away (2 Thessalonians 2:3), the great tribulation (Matthew 24:21) or Babylon the Great (Revelation 17-18). In addition to these, although it is a post- Parousia apocalyptic event, the Millennium (Revelation 20) has been used countless times to influence the entire architecture of the apocalyptic scenario and to determine the moment of the end.



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