Countdown to the end?

As times change, so do interpretations of prophecy

Jul 18, 2016 by

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The British vote to withdraw from the European Union set off a scramble to predict the political and economic implications. Biblical prophecy devotees also took notice. It’s become an article of faith among many Christians that the EU fits into a biblical end-times scenario. But how does the “Brexit” conform to the apocalyptic scheme?

Or: How’s that one-world government coming along?

Not very well, it seems. One would think the British departure would diminish the EU as a herald of the last days. But doomsday prophecy can roll with the changes. A writer at predicted that “despite the referendum outcome, eventually even the U.K. will be absorbed into this end-time system.” A writer at admitted that “globalism took a populist hit” with the British vote, but “somehow, some way, someday, Daniel’s fourth beast, global government, will happen.” To suggest how this might play out, the writer turned typical prophetic theories upside down: “If the EU were to completely fall apart, an opportunity would arise in Europe for a strongman leader to ride in (on a white horse) to save the day.”

In other words, any event can fit an apocalyptic scheme. If a stronger EU won’t pave the way for the Antichrist, a weaker EU can do it just as well. The prophetic puzzle has been reassembled before. When global communism fizzled as an omen of doomsday, militant Islam stepped in to take its place.

The EU is a favorite of eschatologists, who compare it to a revived Holy Roman Empire. A writer at calls the European confederation “an emerging superstate” that is building “the foundations of a one-world government with a one-world dictator.” According to, the dictator will be Barack Hussein Obama. Moreover, in this scenario, the world government will impose a single world religion: the Roman Catholic Church.

Then there’s the mark of the beast, which warns will soon be forced upon us because “the Anti­christ’s coming world economic control is well under way.”

Speculation about the end of the world is prominent in Christian culture, from Hal Lindsey’s Late, Great Planet Earth of the 1970s to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind novels of the 1990s and 2000s. Millions of Christians believe the Bible predicts a series of catastrophic events leading to the bloody Second Coming of an avenging Christ and a divinely ordained World War III.

But ever-changing interpretations of what biblical prophecies mean should raise doubts that the Bible predicts 21st-century events. In Compassionate Eschatology: The Future as Friend, edited by Ted Grimsrud and Michael Hardin (Cascade, 2011), Barbara R. Rossing calls for reclaiming the “biblical apocalyptic voice of protest and hope away from the violent readings that have become so dominant in America today.” The Book of Revelation unveiled to first-century Christians a choice between two competing ways of life — God’s peaceful justice and Rome’s depraved corruption. It “diagnosed the illness, the sickness of the Roman world,” Rossing says, and helps us see that our world’s afflictions are similar. Its core message is not to predict destruction but to promise that Christ will cure the world’s ills with the healing leaves of the tree of life (Rev. 22:2). That’s a better vision of the future than struggling to fit today’s news into a countdown to Armageddon.

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