The End Times in American Pop Culture

RESEARCH PAPER: THE END TIMES IN AMERICAN POP CULTURE 1

 

Research Paper: The End Times in American Pop Culture

Richard Mathewson

Mid-American Christian University

BIOT 3713 Prophetic Books and Eschatology

Instructor Brink July 27, 2011

 

Introduction

     Daniel 12:1 says, And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book (KJV). From the message provided long ago to Daniel in the setting of captivity of the Jewish nation of Israel by the Babylonians in the Old Testament to the book of Revelations revealed to John of the New Testament, God has given His people adequate warning involving the signs of the times pointing to what most in the current Christian culture refer to as “The End Times”. The questions I will address here are: 1) How did the advent of globalization affect history? 2) How does prophecy describe story of life? 3) How do the “end times” correlate to our culture? While these questions are not exhaustive they do present a very real and very serious problem which translates to our culture today. So, what is the importance of understanding the end times and what does this have to do with our culture? First, one very helpful way to understand these signs of the end times is what is known as eschatology or the study of last things (Holman, 2007). Jesus reveals the urgency of understanding the signs of the end times and this urgency is reflected in His words, “….ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” Then, as we begin to notice the importance of understanding these signs, suddenly the realization of our lack of knowledge on this subject begins to present a general feeling of anxiety within our culture—what is hereby known as the “pop culture”.

American Pop Culture

     American pop culture has revealed a dangerous and rather detrimental trend within the past few decades regarding eschatology and the “end time” views of the Bible. That is the disregard for the chastity of biblical truth and the resulting corruption of this truth through cultural influence. The progressive saturation of these cultural influences into the understanding of the Bible has led to unbelief of the truths the Bible contains. The sad reality of this ignorance is the resulting affect it has had on our society. This far reaching, devastating affect can be observed in our pop culture. We will discuss this devastating affect in a little while. Whether a culture chooses to accept the story of the earth or not has no bearing on the reality of this story in life. Injection of cultural influence into biblical truth, which almost always includes pagan ritual and worship, presents a situation with dangerous and even deadly effects on the rest of humanity as well. Because of globalization no one culture in particular is exempt from affecting the rest of the world in what it does and how it thinks. In the global village, we must deal with alternative views of reality every day (Regele, 1995). God has long provided consistent warning against the injection of pagan cultural influence into His chosen people of Israel’s culture and presents along with these warnings the effects of this ignorance and complacency in what we will discuss later as prophecy. Sadly, the present generation as well as some in the preceding generation seems to care more about what is current in pop culture today than what has been occurring within the American society and all around the world regarding eschatology. Biblical relevance in respect to the signs of the end times stemming from the occurrences of the world has taken a back-seat to the pop culture of America. To complicate the problem, the introduction of globalization onto the world scene has ushered in a collective atmosphere of connectedness with the rest of humanity. In turn, the resulting progressive increase in international relationships has fostered a spirit of universalism onto the world scene. This globalization has resulted in an even more drastic and far reaching negative influence on the understanding of the scriptures. This has caused those already with understanding to either weaken or completely change their once, strong views of eschatology and prophecy in the Bible. Because very little can be said regarding the positive aspects of globalization I will concentrate mostly on the negative aspects as they are becoming increasingly more apparent and visibly clear in relation to the predicament of eschatology and carry a direct correlation to the study of end times.

Globalization

     In one of his lectures, a theological professor John Cobb explains ecclesiastical globalization with eschatological implications–We inherited from Israel a story about the whole earth; so we have understood ourselves in the context of global history. We have understood that the good news about Jesus Christ was to be carried throughout the world. (Mt. 28:19; Acts 1:8) Although this globalizing impulse has waxed and waned, it has never been absent. Finally, in the nineteenth century, it came close to realization with the implantation of Christian churches in almost all countries (Cobb, 2000). We begin to notice an eschatological pattern emerge from history not only in the American church culture but also in Israel’s religious culture leading up to the church. Because Jesus commanded that the gospel must be spread throughout all the world and only then would the end come, (Matthew 24:14 KJV) it becomes essential to the understanding of eschatology to realize that this is exactly what is happening today in our world through globalization. Daniel was told by an angel in the Old Testament culture of Israel to “….shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4 KJV). Before the first advent of Jesus on earth, the prophet Daniel was already in possession of a clear understanding of what depicted the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro—this can be easily understood as the invention and introduction of much faster and much more efficient transportation within a limited scope of interpretation. Extending this scope of interpretation even further, it would be pertinent to assume this also points directly to the globalization of the planet. Knowledge shall be increased—this without a doubt signals the widening or globalizing of knowledge through increased communication or more simply put: the introduction of the industrial age!

     Without excluding any other possibilities of what meaning this passage of scripture may contain, it is safe to assume that with the enlightenment of the 18th century and the industrial age of the 18th and 19th centuries our world changed drastically. Not only did our world change; it became a globalized environment of instant communication and high speed transportation never before known to the world. Almost overnight everyone collectively became connected to each other regardless of the lines drawn in the sand that previously separated these people from each other. Whether it was war, ethnic division, religion, or political relevance, the issues that caused former divisions of nations seemed to fade away into the past and our world became a global supermarket instantly. Never before had the world seen such an epic change take place in such a small amount of time and it was as if the future erased the past leaving behind nothing to remember it by. Is it safe to say the industrial revolution fulfilled the prophecy of Daniel? Maybe, but then maybe not….However, what we can certainly understand from this information though, is how the industrial revolution of the 18th century has without a doubt played directly into the past predictions of prophets about the future. Here we can clearly see how already prophecy is becoming visible to our modern cultures. The presence of eschatology is now displayed for the world to see and the American culture of the 18th and 19th centuries has received the first big lesson of the relevance of biblical truth. Now let’s discuss just how relevant to prophecy and eschatology in general the industrial revolution really is.

     The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the socioeconomic and cultural conditions of the times….It began in the United Kingdom, then subsequently spread throughout Europe, North America, and eventually the world (Wikipedia, 2011). It is safe to say from above that the world as we once knew it to be had changed and Daniel could now be interpreted and understood in retrospect to this advent of technology and communication improvements. Because eschatology not only looks to the future for realization but it also looks to the past as well, history took on a fresh interest as it moved from prophecy of old to fulfillment of new. Possibility became reality, prediction turned into production. But eschatology is not alone in its interpretation of prophetic utterances of the past; prophecy also appears to come into view here as we will see.

Prophecy in Relation to the End Times

     Some fifty years ago, with the research of literary critics, linguists, psychologists, anthropologists and philosophers, metaphors metamorphosed from seasoning to substance, from appetizer to entrée….Instead of simply adding ornamentation, metaphors were recognized as a fundamental operative in society (Sandy, 2002). Metaphors are an important element of prophecy. The prophets of ancient used colorful metaphorical language in describing the catastrophic and awesome wrath of God that would happen if the people would not listen and heed God’s directives. Prophecy, while sometimes literal although very rarely understood in this context, tends to be better understood in the figurative sense. There are many reasons for this but the most prevalent reason seems to be the penetration effect needed to cut through the numbness of the hearers (Sandy, 2002).

     Prophecy was a message to the hearers and God wanted them to remember what He was saying to them because their survival depended upon their reception to His message. Because prophecy explains or describes God’s intent and purpose for His children, it can be understood and easily accepted that it is through prophecy, fulfilled and unfulfilled, that we discover clues explaining or describing the end times. Prophecy reveals the wrath of God towards the wickedness and sin of His chosen people through impending catastrophe or doom for those who refuse to repent of this wickedness and sin. However, without portraying absolute hopelessness, prophecy introduces a plan of prosperity in relation to calamity. There is hope and this hope is revealed in God’s patience and mercy during the calamity of this impending catastrophe and doom.

     Because America inherited from Israel a story about the whole earth (Cobb, 2000) we must understand what that story is and how Israel plays a part before we will understand the story. Israel began as a people to be set aside and consecrated unto God; His chosen people with a specific purpose and goal. However, true to the nature of humanity since the fall of Adam, these people, while uniquely dedicated and intensely monotheistic, continued to fall into sin. It was this failure to follow God’s direction and commandments which caused God to react to this sin through His prophets. God sent the prophets in an attempt to set straight the fallen children of Israel. This attempt was met with both success and failure on the part of the Israelites. The cycle of God commands-children disobey, God punishes-children repent, continued throughout the history of Israel. The prophets were given warnings from God. In response to His divine inspiration they turned around and produced colorful, metaphoric language directed towards the people of Israel. In an attempt to convince the people of their sin and much needed repentance, these prophets portrayed catastrophic doom that was doubtlessly going to happen if they refused to repent of their sins.

     Included in these prophetic warnings was apocalyptic language as well. While prophecy is figurative and poetic, apocalyptic is visionary and fantastic (Sandy, 2002). And while apocalyptic is a form or genre of prophecy, it is distinctive in the message it relays. Apocalyptic offers an assurance that the faithful who endure calamity will receive the reward of eternal life in glory. It asserts that God has a plan and His will shall be done despite all other factors involved. Unlike prophecy, apocalyptic points toward an end-time scenario and this is the intended understanding. It reveals the occurrences that will happen during this time in visionary language full of color with remarkable and awe binding descriptions of grandeur. Apocalyptic also directs the listener to the future; both immediate and distant. It is farther reaching than prophecy in this message of visionary display of God’s absolute glory. So even in the Old Testament we can see the end times beginning to surface in the Israelite culture. Now we will look at how the American culture is derived from the Israelite culture of the Bible.

     Both Jew and Gentile Upon sending His only Son, Jesus Christ to earth to remedy the predicament of sin and offer the nation of Israel another opportunity to regain the position of holy people consecrated unto Him, God decided that it was time to extend this offer to all humanity (Romans 4:16 KJV). For once in the history of the world, both Jew and Gentile alike now had the ability, freedom, and responsibility to approach God in awe and reverence through Jesus Christ. Because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23 KJV) it is necessary that all repent and receive the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. It is important to the reality of eschatology to understand that Jesus Christ is the plan of redemption.

     At this point in history, tradition became obsolete and it was now faith which became necessary for this salvation.  However, God had not abandoned His chosen children of Israel, no, quite the contrary; instead He was using the hardened hearts of these stubborn people to bring the Gentiles into His kingdom, which had been inaugurated through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In Romans 11:11 Paul confirms this plan when he clearly says this: I say then, “Have they stumbled that they should fall?” “God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy” (KJV). This passage reveals God’s divine plan of redemption revealed to us throughout history for the entire world, both Jew and Gentile alike. The original covenant was first made between God and Abraham; the father of the Jews. However, due to God’s merciful plan of redemption for the entire world that covenant now extends to all who desire salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

     We now realize that what we are all truly apart of this world story of redemption and it is through this redemption that we can receive salvation. Hebrews 1:1-2 explains that in times past God spoke to us through the prophets but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, Jesus Christ.  Even now we continue to notice the end times appearing again and again throughout scripture. The further we continue in our quest of understanding eschatology in our culture, the more we realize how connected eschatology is to our culture. And as we realize there is a sense of urgency in the rhetoric of the scriptures, we understand that this urgency applies to the entire world whether Jew or Gentile. We must now understand how this urgency specifically correlates over to our own culture—American pop culture.

The American Idol

     The American pop culture is responsible for causing much division of God’s Word recently. This can be contributed mainly to post modernism. With the failure of the modernist goal of a single, true story about what is real (the grand narrative), we have adopted in its place the belief that “truth” is merely a cultural construction (Regele, 1995). Before our post modernist culture, the previous modernist culture called for a “bombproof” certainty of knowledge. However, after the emergence of the global village or globalization everything about the American culture previously practiced and observed as a religious belief changed. The entire belief system changed as a result of a cultural shift in what truth is. Truth was now relative to the culture in which it existed. And because of the constant flow of foreign immigrants swelling its borders, America found its original ideals and theological views change from fundamental to fanatical. Around the same time as this influx of foreign influence, America began to faze into what we now know as the pop culture. However, because of the ideological beliefs of this new culture biblical truth dwindled in importance until it represented just a small minority of faithful adherents.

     Materialism, individualism, and universalism became the staple of the American diet and the acceptable status quo was no longer derived from biblical standard but cultural norm.  Fundamental adherents of the Bible became all but silent as they were forced to the way side and the spotlight now centered on popular opinion. The media evolved into the ruling class and wealth determined an individual’s status in the community. Priority was given to everything materialistic and the seemingly insignificant lives of Hollywood celebrities demanded more air time than world news. Both national and international news revealed the priority of the world; who was going to be voted in as the next American Idol! Popular television series portraying Reality TV ruled the day. The technological age thrusted itself forward with no visible end in sight.

     Where does this leave the theologian, the Bible scholar, the Pastor, and the professor of Bible studies? I cannot truly answer this question because the position of the modern church is really so skewed and corrupted it remains clouded in contradiction. But I can say in complete honesty our American pop culture has turned its back on the end times. Prophecy is openly denied and the very words of God are mocked daily. Should we be surprised? According to Jesus in Matthew 24:38 “….As the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (KJV). Now let’s read this passage in tandem with Genesis 6:11–The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence (KJV). So we can clearly see the days of Noah closely resemble the days we live in today. Or do the days we live in today closely resemble the days of Noah? Whichever direction we choose to go with this, one thing is certain; we can ascertain that both of these Old Testament and New Testament scripture passages directly correlate with each other. Anyone with faith should feel secure knowing that those things mentioned above as happening in Noah’s day by Jesus must happen before the end comes (Matthew 24:5-14 KJV).  

     Matthew 24:21 echoes the words of Daniel when Jesus tells us, “For then shall be great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (KJV)—Daniel 12:1 says….”and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time….” (KJV). What is the relevance of these two passages that parallel each other so closely? First, we have no evidence that establishes Jesus had access to Daniel’s prophecies during His ministry in Galilee. Without archeological proof to substantiate this fact, one could correctly assume Jesus reiterated the words of Daniel from the Old Testament prophecy. This reveals the credibility of Daniel’s prophecy and general accuracy as well. Furthermore, this points to the survivorability and durability of prophecy throughout history. Second, remaining true to eschatology, one can positively identify the tribulation we are currently experiencing as a fulfillment of this prophecy. Finally, the realization of how the end times correlate over to our American pop culture can be correctly understood in historical precedence, present experience, and future perspective.

Bibliography

(Holman, 2007) AMG International, I. (1984, 1990, 2008). The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible King James Version. Chattanooga: AMG Publishers.

Cobb, J. B. (2000, 10 02). The Theological Stake in Globalization. Retrieved 07 26, 2011, from Online Religion: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1095

Falwell, J. (2005). King James Version Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Hoekema, A. A. (1979). The Bible and The Future. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Holman. (2007). Holman KJV Super Giant Print Dictionary and Concordance. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.

Regele, M. (1995). Death of the Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Sandy, B. (2002). Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, USA.

Vine, W. E. (2010). Vine’s Topical Commentary: Prophecy. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Vine, W. (2005). Vine’s Concise Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 

Water, M. (2004). AMG’s Encyclopedia of Bible Facts . Chattanooga: John Hunt Publishing Ltd.

Wikipedia. (2011, 07 19). Industrial Revolution. Retrieved 07 26, 2011, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution

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