The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

The Pokey Finger of God header image 2

Apocalypse 2018

April 13th, 2018 · No Comments · christianity, culture, history

Internet rumors are swirling that April 23, 2018 will bring about the end of the world. Quick! Look busy! Jesus is coming!

Predictions of the planet’s imminent demise have been the mainstay of crank prophecy circles for centuries. Most often, these predictions presage a “second coming” of Christ as predicted in the book of Revelations. Few people can read the book of Revelations and agree with anyone else about what it means. Consequently, it’s often taken to mean whatever was convenient to believe at the time.

Rather than making an accounting of all the times this has been predicted and hasn’t happened, I wanted to discuss the two times it’s already happened.

The first return of Christ occurred about 40 years after the stories in the Gospels. He returned in the form of the Roman Emperor Titus. Christ’s journey mirrored that of Titus’s as he (Titus) rolled through Judea with a handful of Roman legions, laying siege on one town after another, starting with Galilee and ending in Jerusalem. As Christ predicted, Titus-as-Christ tore down the Temple of Jerusalem and left not one stone atop another, as it was pushed down the hill into a great pile of rubble.

Since the first appearance of the Gospels was with Josephus’s book on the History of the Jewish War, it’s pretty easy to link Josephus with the creation of the Gospels. Titus’s family, the Flavians, are thus linked to the creation of Christianity as an emperor cult for Titus.

The second return of Christ happened centuries later, with the appearance of Constantine, who restored and popularized a new strain of Christianity that included the book of Revelation. Much of the imagery of that book is primarily a caricature of Diocletian, whose structure of imperial governance Constantine destroyed. The four horsemen of the apocalypse, for example, was a direct reference to Diocletian’s “Tetrarchy” in which four co-emperors ruled the empire, and were symbolized by four horsemen.

Some time after the bishops of Western Rome decided that they no longer needed an emperor and simply stopped electing new ones, the theology of their faith was subtly changed. Without an emperor to worship, there was only left the mythology that originally justified each emperor’s position. And after a while, the emperor was no longer part of the story told and they were forgotten (in the faith, at least).

Fast forward a thousand years, and we have the Protestants, whose position is that Rome subverted the original, pure Christianity and who deliberately strip everything “pagan” from their flavor of faith, leaving it largely bereft of tradition and symbolism. Consequently, the “Second Coming” of Christ has special meaning to them — since they refuse to believe that it referenced events in the past. Catholics tend to reject tales of future apocalypse as fear mongering, but it’s the bread and butter of most Protestant strains. It’s no wonder there’s such a huge audience so ready to anticipate an event that already happened.