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Jacques Ellul Challenges My Eschatology
As a child growing up around Methodists, Baptists, and Charismatics, I soaked up a hodgepodge of End Times theories. The most common End of the World issue was “The Rapture”, and whether it would come before the great tribulation, during the great tribulation, or after.
If you’re not familiar with these age-old religious terms, let’s get that out of the way. The Great Tribulation is the nickname for a predicted period of intense global calamity and suffering yet to come. Just imagine global pandemics, wars, destructive earthquakes, hurricanes, nuclear devastation, and you’ll get the idea. This period of global catastrophe is expected to end with the total destruction of the earth as we know it.
The Rapture is what people call a moment in the Future when Jesus will return from Heaven to gather true believers from Earth and bring them out of pain and suffering to join him in an epic banquet feast. John,author of Revelation, described a vision in which a NEW Heaven and NEW Earth are created which will never be destroyed.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Why the New Earth Concept Is Dangerous
People of faith seem to feel very little responsibility to steward Earth. Despite the fact that God created this habitat for man and woman to thrive and to oversee. Why aren’t Christians the most sustainable, regenerative, and ecologically active people on the face of this planet? Because why spend time on something that’s gonna just burn.
That’s right. Believers tend to see Earth as temporary, so they treat it like it’s disposable. They litter. They waste. They consume. They ignore. And then they have the audacity to go out into the world and try to make littering wasting consuming disciples.
The World I WANT To See
People who accept and believe that Adam and Eve were the first humans, and that the garden was created specifically for them to live in and steward should lead the charge to innovate in regenerative agriculture. That means healing the earth, restoring the soil, replenishing nutrients, and fostering a more beneficial ecosystem than they experienced the day they were born.
It makes total sense to me that, if we could honestly reread Revelation and find a predictive path that excludes global destruction, we would discover a mandate to foster the paradise we wish to inhabit for all Eternity.
There are so many reasons why this interpretation would work. Just take stewardship alone. Why hand a brand new Earth to a bunch of worthless unfaithful stewards? Why would they suddenly take good care of Earth 2? Wouldn’t it rather make better sense to reward good and faithful service with an incorruptible version or enhanced version of the garden they have labored faithfully to establish.
That’s the End Times vision I WANT to see.
But am I pie-in-the-sky dreaming? Jacques Ellul seems to think so. In his book, Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation, Ellul makes a convincing case for the standard Earth-will-be-utterly-destroyed worldview.
He addresses my wishful thinking in this passage:
This description of human rejoicing in a universe of nature is not, as we shall see, a small theological error. This is fundamental. We can discern three essential elements: the New of God, the City, the Warning.
The first evidence is that the new creation, which is absolutely new, comes only through judgment and destruction: first, a radical crisis is necessary, annihilation that falls upon all: nature, humanity, history, and the powers. This death is inevitable in order that something truly new appear; this judgment is indispensable for the separation of the wheat and the tares. There is then no continuity. The city of God is not at the end of human progress, at the end of history by a sort of accumulation of the works of man; at this end there is found only Babylon. Our works then are not a linear and cumulative preparation for the celestial Jerusalem.
In the Apocalypse there is no idea of a fulfillment by historical progress. The old things that are effaced (the first heaven, the first earth, have disappeared) are characterized here only by Death, Suffering, Separation. All the rest that was the grandeur of man has never been exempt. All that which was happiness, good, beauty is transitory and passing. All was under the sign of suffering and separation: which was the sign not of pessimism, but of discernment of the most profound reality.
This statement flies directly in the face of the Bethel Church eschatology espoused briefly by Kris Vallotton and Bill Johnson. They’ve shared over the years that they see a very different End Times than the standard churn-and-burn eschatology. They have chosen to live as though believers have been given the mandate to usher in the Kingdom here on earth, and that what we do may establish the New Heaven and New Earth with the old’s complete destruction or disposal.
That’s a future I WANT to see, but I’m in pursuit of understanding what I should believe. As I’ve mentioned, I see the current mode of interpretation leading to a despicable irresponsibility. This result does not line up with what I know of the Father. He fashioned us carefully to be faithful stewards of this habitat he placed us within. Whether we need a new interpretation of Revelation or simply a more mature response to its current interpretation, I do not know.
I know that I see far more symbolism than realism in Revelation than I used to, so I’ve made it my mission to pursue a deeper understanding.