Armageddon and the Book of Revelation

The events written in the biblical Book of Revelation go by a number of names — Armaggedon, Apocalypse, The End Times — and for thousands of years, people have been seeing the signs of Armaggedon in the world around them.

Remember Y2K? At the heart of this millenialism is the description of Armageddon, the final battle on Earth between God and Satan, in the Book of Revelation. Popular belief is that the Antichrist will reveal himself, and Christ will return to the Earth to take the good and the righteous up to heaven in an event known as "The Rapture," leaving Satan behind to rule the Earth for 1,000 years. The philosophy and theology surrounding these "End Times" is called eschatology.

There are variations in the way Christians interpret the Book of Revelation, and it's without question the hardest book of the Bible to understand. Even the author, John, is disputed by scholars — no one can say with authority whether this John was an apostle or an otherwise unknown author. These difficulties have resulted in wildly differing viewpoints:

  • Revelation is a future prophecy. Its many visions and descriptions can be laid over past, present, or future events, but readers of all times and places tend to think Revelation describes the prelude to the Apocalypse as being right now. Of course, this has been done for 1,950 years, give or take, and every evil dictator has been nominated by doomsayers as the Antichrist.
  • Armaggedon already happened during the Roman Empire. Some biblical scholars argue that Revelation isn't about some future apocalyptic cataclysm at all. They say that the Beast referred to in Revelation is really the Emperor Nero, and that 666 refers to Hebrew numerology of Nero Caesar's name. This is the Nero who famously fiddled while Rome burned, but more important, he was the first emperor to order official Roman persecution of the Christians.
  • Revelation is a road map that tells how to trigger Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ. The formation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1945 was the first step to arming the cosmic trigger. Now that the Jews have come back to Jerusalem, all that's left is for them to flatten the Islamic mosques currently occupying the Temple Mount and to rebuild the Hebrew Temple for God to set the Final Conflict in motion. This reason is why fundamentalist Christians strongly support Israel — helping them will bring Christ back that much faster. It's also a partial reason why Islamic authorities who are in charge of the Temple Mount categorically refuse to allow Israeli excavation under the mosques on the Mount, or to even publicly admit that there was ever any Jewish Temple up there to begin with.
  • Revelation is an allegory, and you need to always be prepared for The End in your heart. Some Christian sects hold that Satan is being held in the wings by God, where he can be dragged out onto the cosmological and ecclesiastical stage whenever God chooses to bring about the End Times. So the best way to prepare isn't to look for signs of The End, but to live every day like it's the last one.

And there are a lot of variations in between. There's big money being made in eschatological opportunism, and there's a big difference between prophets and profits.

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