|Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse|
painting by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887
We are NOT living in the Last Days, but we are living in a time that mimics it, and we are closer to the Last Days now than we have ever been. We could easily call the time in which we live a time of a full-dress rehearsal. It has many parallels to the Last Days, but it is not the Last Days.
When I was an Evangelical, I was constantly treated to preaching that we are living in the Last Days. By that I mean the days just proximal to the arrival of the Antichrist, and that this final epoch of world history could begin at any moment, ushering in the Great Tribulation of the Apocalypse. Of course, as an Evangelical, I was taught that we would be spared all this because we would be taken in the "secret rapture" while all the "fake Christians" (Catholics, mainline Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, etc.) as well as non-believers (Muslims, Hindus, Secularists, Atheists, etc.) would be "left behind" to endure the horrors of the Antichrist...
The 2014 Nicolas Cage film (trailer above) is a latecomer to the Rapture movie saga, which has been made since the 1970s, each with an increasing budget. The first was a really quite pathetic series of "B" movies even for the 1970s. Gradually, with each decade they've been able to increase the budget. The 2014 Rapture movie, a reboot of the "Left Behind" series, was actually able to bring a big-name celebrity (Nicholas Cage) to the screen, adding a whole new selling point to the Evangelical Rapture doctrine. I should give some kudos to Mr Cage here. His acting is, as usual, excellent and he performed a great service to his employers in this movie. It was a very professional job. I wouldn't expect anything less from him. He is, after all, a top-notch actor. He didn't become a celebrity by just reading lines. The man knows how to deliver them with passion and believability.
The increased budget of "Left Behind" movies about the Rapture doctrine is a reflection of just how big of a force Evangelicalism has become over the last 40 years. The massive mega-churches that dot the American landscape are rolling in even more massive revenue, and this latest Rapture movie is just one more example of that. As I've said previously, Evangelicalism is not really a new religious movement in and of itself. Oh sure, Evangelicals have been around for a while, almost 200 years, but they were dwarfed by larger mainstream Protestant denominations during much of that time. It's only been in the last 40 years that a demographic shift has occurred, flipping the charts, and putting Evangelicalism as the dominant religious force in the Protestant world today. Why is this? It's simple really. Evangelical churches have become refugee camps for sensible Protestants fleeing their mainline denominations in the face of the tyranny of relativism. It's a simple as this. Mainline Protestant churches went liberal during the 1970s - 2000s, and as this happened, large numbers of sensible mainline Protestants bolted. This includes; Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodist, Presbyterians, Reformed, etc. Where did they go? A small number went off to found their own split-off branches, but the majority of people simply moved over to the local Evangelical mega-church. It was an easy solution and one that didn't require any work. The church building is already there. It's well established. The people are friendly, and it requires zero-effort to join. Some don't even require you to sign membership papers.
Think about it for a second. Put yourself in their shoes. You're a sensible mainline Protestant who holds to the faith of your fathers. You're married and you have kids. Then one Sunday, while sitting in church, your pastor informs the congregation that there has been a vote in the denominational headquarters. Henceforth, from now on, women will be ordained as pastors, abortion is no longer a sin, and same-sex "marriages" will be blessed in religious ceremonies. What do you do? You're married, you have kids, and you really don't have the energy to do a startup split-off church. The easy solution is to pack up the spouse and kids the following Sunday and say: "Okay family, we're going church shopping!" I guarantee you, this scenario has played out in North America tens of millions of times over the last 40-something years. Where did most of those families end up? You guessed it! They ended up in Evangelical churches. Why? Because Evangelical churches offer a bare-bones basic Protestant theology that most Protestants can live with, no matter what denomination they originally came from. When I was an Evangelical, I knew other Evangelicals who came from every tradition imaginable; Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, etc. In fact, almost every Evangelical I knew in the 1990s was a refugee from some other Protestant church. Very few, hardly any, came from non-Christian backgrounds. Evangelicals aren't evangelising very many new people to the Christian faith. Rather, they're simply syphoning in other Christians from liberal (broken) mainstream Protestant denominations, as well as poorly catechized Catholics. These mega-churches are not new religious movements. They're refugee camps for sensible Protestants who knew there was no way to save their old mainline denominations, got tired of fighting, and didn't have the energy to start a new counter-denomination. This caused Evangelical churches to swell in size, which in turn increased their operating budgets, which in turn made it possible to produce high-end movies like the 2014 version of "Left Behind" starring celebrity actor Nicholas Cage.
While this Rapture stuff may be new to many people, it's old news to me. I've been listening to it since the 1970s. I was a hardcore believer in it during the 1990s. I was convinced that the year 2,000 marked the beginning of the end times. (Because God likes to work in round numbers don't you know.) My youth was wasted obsessing on this nonsense, and all I can say is THANK GOD I was able to escape it before my 30th birthday. At the age of 29, on April 22, 2000, during the Easter Vigil, my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church, and from that moment on, the one thing we truly left behind was the Rapture doctrine.
Over the last 18 years, I've put a lot more time and study into the subject of the End Times and the Last Days. This time around, it was with much less hysteria and obsession. Now it's more of a casual academic kind of study.
Before I explain why let me first elaborate on some terms here...
- End Times -- the period of time spanning from the first coming of Christ (AD 1) to the second coming of Christ at the end of time. Yes, we are living in the End Times according to this definition, but by the same token, so has everyone for the last 2,000 years!
- Last Days -- the specific period of time just before the second coming of Christ, marked by a period of great trial and tribulation for Christians all around the world.
- Latter Days or Latter Times -- a more general term, referring to the times (centuries) leading up to the Last Days.
- Rapture -- a false doctrine created by a former Anglican priest turned Evangelical during the 19th century. His name was John Nelson Darby. It is the belief held by many Evangelicals today that just before the Last Days, God will magically remove all "true Christians" (Evangelicals) from the world, taking them to heaven (body and soul) prematurely, so they won't have to endure the horrors of the Antichrist and the End Times.
- Antichrist -- an actual figure from the Bible, prophesied to arrive during the Last Days, leading the whole world into a false belief system (Great Apostasy) that denies Jesus Christ.
- Great Apostasy -- an actual event from the Bible, prophesied to arrive during the reign of Antichrist, wherein the entire world (having once been Christian) will turn away from the Christian faith and embrace the false religious system of the Antichrist.
While the Rapture is not a real thing, the Last Days are! Christians living during the Last Days will not be spared from it by a mythical Rapture event. Christians will have to endure it alongside everyone else, and yes, Christians will suffer and be martyred during this time. The time in which we currently live is not the Last Days, and the Last Days are not coming in the immediate future. Rather, the time in which we live is a precursor to that time. Think of it as a full-dress rehearsal to the Last Days. Satan is doing a trial run.
The reason why I'm saying we are not living in the Last Days is twofold. We have Biblical Revelation and we have Private Revelation. Both attest to this time period not being the Last Days.
The Bible clearly explains certain signs we are to look for. First, we are to look for the arrival of the Antichrist. Second, we are to look for signs of the Great Apostasy. Both of these events are roughly simultaneous, and they are interconnected with each other. The Antichrist provides the message that leads to the Great Apostasy, and the Great Apostasy leads to the ascension of Antichrist to world power. The definition of "apostasy" is a falling away from the faith. This means that one cannot apostatize unless one was previously a Christian. A Muslim cannot commit apostasy because he was never a Christian, to begin with. The same goes for Hindus, Buddhists, and even a good number of Secularists and Atheists.
Apostasy... is the complete and voluntary abandonment of the Christian religion, whether the apostate embraces another religion such as Paganism, Judaism, Mohammedanism, etc., or merely makes profession of Naturalism, Rationalism, etc. The heretic differs from the apostate in that he only denies one or more of the doctrines of revealed religion, whereas the apostate denies the religion itself, a sin which has always been looked upon as one of the most grievous.
Catholic Encyclopedia (New Advent)In other words, in order to commit apostasy, you have to have at one time actually been a Christian. The Scriptures define the Great Apostasy during the Last Days as an event when the entire world (having once been Christian) turns away from the faith entirely, denying Christ entirely, in favour of some new religious system set up by the Antichrist...
"Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion [apostasy] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
(2 Thessalonians 2:1-12)So there are two problems here. First, the whole world hasn't been evangelised yet. Granted, a large part of the world has, but not the ENTIRE world. You can't have a falling away of the entire world, from a faith the entire world doesn't believe in yet. Second, this Great Apostasy is tied to the Antichrist. Where is the Antichrist? Is there any person in the world espousing a religion, that entirely denies Christ, which the whole world is currently following? Nope. While there are many religious movements, and many forms of apostasy taking place, none of them is centred around one man, and none of them is pulling the majority of Christians around the world away from Christ. Yes, we are living in an apostasy right now, but it's not a global apostasy because while Western civilisation is gradually turning away from the faith, Christianity in Africa is booming! The same is true in many places in Asia. An apostasy cannot be said to be global when, in fact, it's not global. It's regional, in that it affects mostly Europe and the Americas. (We might be able to include parts of Oceana in that.) However, Africa remains relatively untouched. If anything, people are converting to Christianity en mass there. Likewise, Christianity is growing in Asia as well, especially underground in communist China. This is my point. You can't have a Great Apostasy, which is global when the globe isn't involved. It's just a good chunk of the globe (Europe, Americas and Australia) but not the whole globe. We also have large numbers of people who have yet to become Christians. Over a billion Muslims still need to be evangelized, as well as billions more from other religions and communism.
The Secular apostasy now affecting Western civilisation is mostly limited to Western civilisation. It doesn't centre around any particular religious message, other than an adherence to no religious message at all. There is no central messianic figure driving it. An honest assessment of the situation tells us this is NOT the scenario described in the Bible as the Last Days. It has many similarities to it, but it's not the same.
Still yet, many Evangelicals turn to the Book of Revelation, and from numerous symbolic images contained therein, they try to weave a tapestry of signs pointing to our time as the Last Days, and our Pope as the Antichrist of "False Prophet." Sadly, not a small number of radical-traditional (rad-trad) Catholics have fallen into this trap as well. Their ignorance of the Scriptures reveals itself by how easily they fall into the same bed with Protestant Fundamentalists by identifying the current Pope Francis as the Antichrist or "False Prophet." They do this using the same Biblical passages from the Book of Revelation. The error they make is in using the Futurism method of interpretation for the Book of Revelation made popular by Martin Luther and John Nelson Darby. In doing so, they confuse the Sea Beast of Revelation 13 with the future Antichrist. There is nothing in this text that indicates this Sea Beast represents the Antichrist. There is much in the text, however, to indicate the Sea Beast represents Nero Caesar from the late first century. Likewise, when the Pope is not identified with the Sea Beast as the Antichrist, these same Fundamentalists (and some rad-trad Catholics) will then turn to the Land Beast in the same chapter, and point to the Pope as the "False Prophet" who aids the Antichrist. Again, we have nothing in the text to indicate these symbolic "beasts" are meant to be interpreted as future events. We have much in the text, however, to indicate that the Sea Beast represents Nero Caesar in the late first century, and the Land Beast represents the High Priest of the Jerusalem Temple in the same time period. There is much historical evidence of the two working together to manipulate the Jewish people and persecute the early Christians. This method of interpreting the Book of Revelation is called Preterism, and it was made popular by St. Augustine of Hippo, even though he was certainly not the first Saint to use it. Augustine was championing the views of Tertullian, Clement, and Origen. Catholics (most especially some "rad-trads") would do well to follow the Augustinian approach of Preterism to the Book of Revelation, rather than the Protestant approaches of Martin Luther (Historicism) and John Nelson Darby (Futurism).
Finally, as Catholics, we have the added tool of Private Revelation to help us decipher the times in which we live. Many Catholic mystics have described the history of the Church as being divided up into various ages. The most notable among them is the Venerable Father Bartholomew Holzhauser, who was born in Laugna, Germany in AD 1613. He had several apocalyptic visions of the past, present and future. Among those visions, he described the Church as following this pattern of seven distinct Church ages...
First Church Age
The Apostolic Age, from Christ and the Apostles to Pope Linus and Emperor Nero, AD 1 -- 79
Second Church Age
The Days of Persecution and the Early Church, from Pope Linus to Pope Sylvester, AD 79 -- 314
Third Church Age
The Rise of Christendom, from Pope Sylvester and Emperor Constantine to Pope Leo III, AD 314 -- 795
Fourth Church Age
The Age of Christendom, from Pope Leo III to Leo X, AD 795 -- 1520
Fifth Church Age
The Fall of Christendom, from Pope Leo X to a future Strong Ruler and a Holy Pope, AD 1520 -- ????
Sixth Church Age
The Revival of Christendom, from a Strong Ruler and a Holy Pope to the birth of Antichrist, AD ???? -- ????
Seventh Church Age
The Last Days, from the birth of Antichrist to end of the world AD ???? -- ????
If you would like to read the entire Private Revelation of the Venerable Father Bartholomew Holzhauser, it can be found here. The gist of Holzhauser vision was that the periods of Church history would progressively get longer through the first four ages, with the fourth age being the longest, and then progressively shorten with each period thereafter. The seventh age would be the shortest. According to Holzhauser, as well as other mystics, we are now living near the end of the fifth Church Age and approaching the sixth.
There is more Private Revelation that clues us to the times in which we are currently living -- at the end of the fifth age, just before the sixth. In the 19th-century, Blessed Anna Maria Taigi revealed: "Whole nations will join the Church shortly before the reign of the Antichrist... There shall be innumerable conversions of heretics, who will return to the bosom of the Church... Russia, England and China will come into the Church." This is a reference to what must take place before "The Great Apostasy" could ever occur. The whole world must be converted to the Catholic Church. This means nations and peoples who have broken away (such as Russia and England for example), as well as nations that have never been Christian before (such as China and India for example). Thus, Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, expanding on Holzhauser's visions, confirms that the sixth age of the Church will be one of healing, renewal and great evangelisation for the Catholic Church.
In the 20th-century, our Lord appeared to St Faustina of Poland and said: "Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart. I use punishment when they themselves force Me to do so; My hand is reluctant to take hold of the sword of justice. Before the Day of Justice, I am sending the Day of Mercy." Thanks to her canonisation by Pope St John Paul II, her message of God's mercy is now being carried throughout the Catholic world, and will certainly spread into all these countries that are destined to return to Christ in the near future, and those which are to come that have yet never been Christian.
In the 17th-century, Blessed Mary of Agreda had a revelation about the times in which we live and thereafter: "the Lord will in a special manner spread the renown of His Mother. Mary began salvation, and by her intercession, it will be completed. Before the second coming of Christ, Mary, more than ever, must shine in mercy, might, and grace in order to bring unbelievers into the Catholic faith. The power of Mary in the latter days will be very conspicuous. Mary will extend the reign of Christ over the heathens and the Mohammedans, and it will be a time of great joy when Mary is enthroned as Mistress and Queen of Hearts." As you can see, this time has not come yet. The Muslim nations have yet to convert to Christ, but that day is coming, and it comes in the "latter days" (meaning during the last two church ages), but not the "Last Days" which are the times of Antichrist -- the last Church age exclusively. The point here is that we have ONE MORE CHURCH AGE (lasting centuries) between our own time and the Time of Antichrist (The Last Days).
There are numerous prophecies from various Catholic mystics, all approved by the Church, which recount a great time of tumult and chastisement at the very end of the fifth age of the Church, so much so, that many people will believe it is the Last Days, but this is just one more way the fifth age mirrors the seventh. God will purge the world of enough evil to make way for the sixth period of the Church -- the Age of Mary. So we can expect our current time to get much worse before it gets better, but this is NOT the Last Days.
So are we living in the Last Days? Based on the clear definitions I provided above -- no. We can't be in the Last Days until the emergence of Antichrist and the Great Apostasy. Are we living in the End Times? Sure! But so has everyone since the 1st-century. We could even say we are living in the Latter Times or Latter Days because those are general terms referring to the sixth and seventh period of Church history. While we're not in the sixth period just yet, I think its fair to say we're getting very close. So if we want to use clear terminology, this is how we could put it...
- The End Times span from the period of Christ's birth until his return at the Second Coming. So far they have lasted over 20 centuries and would appear to have at least a few more centuries ahead.
- The Latter Days or Ladder Times refer to the period of history situated nearer to the end of history than to the beginning. It's pretty safe to say that we are probably closer to Christ's Second Coming than his First, so it's probably pretty safe to say we are living in the Latter Days or Latter Times.
- The Last Days refer to a specific period of time during the life of Antichrist at the end of all world history. We are most likely NOT living in this time period right now.
Now, addressing the issue of Pope Francis specifically, I will say this. If he's supposed to be the Antichrist, or the "False Prophet," or any Last Days player, then I am terribly disappointed in the Devil. I would have expected so much more from him. Pope Francis has everwhere told people to follow Jesus Christ. In this sense, he is properly fulfilling his role as pope, even if in the most basic sense. He would be the worst Antichrist ever. He would be the worst "False Prophet" ever. What kind of Antichrist or "False Prophet" tells people to follow Jesus Christ? We can debate the effectiveness of his papacy all we want. Likewise, we can debate the orthodoxy of his teaching all we want. But for heaven's sake, to accuse him of being the Antichrist? Well, that's just insanity! It reveals not only a profound lack of understanding concerning the Scriptures -- the Antichrist cannot affirm Jesus Christ in any way (1 John 2:18-22, 1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7) -- but it also displays a level of emotional hysteria that is just mind-boggling. To those people who say such things, I say grow up! And start reading the Bible for yourself instead of listening to doomsday prophets on the radio, television and Internet.
Now that we have entered liturgical Season of Advent in 2017, the Church encourages us to contemplate both the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. One will notice the readings at mass becoming more apocalyptic leading up to Christmas. In doing so, let us be careful not to jump on board the Last Days hysteria common to Protestant Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, as well as a growing number of radical-traditional (rad-trad) Catholics, who have mistakenly identified the crisis surrounding the end of the fifth Church age in our time, with the seventh Church age in the Last Days.
We really must be careful about these apocalyptic bandwagons that people in our society quite frequently jump on. We have to remember that Protestants have been obsessing on the End Times for five centuries now. Martin Luther believed he was living in the Last Days way back in the 16th century. He was convinced that the Pope was the Antichrist and that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would happen before the end of his century. Each and every major Protestant movement, throughout the centuries, operated on the premise that they were living in the Last Days and the Antichrist was near. John Nelson Darby, the founder of the Rapture doctrine who ministered in 19th-century Britain, believed the Antichrist would come before the middle of the 20th century. My grandmother told me about conversations she would have with my grandfather during World War II wherein they theorised that Hitler might be the Antichrist. In my own time, I remember Evangelicals and Fundamentalists forecasting the Second Coming of Christ multiple times. The first big date was 1980, then 1984, then 1988, then 1997, then 2000. When I was an Evangelical, I personally believed in the possibility of 1997 and then 2000. Thankfully, Catholicism saved me from all that. This is very serious stuff folks, and as Catholics, we need to avoid it. Last Days hysteria is a Protestant thing, not a Catholic thing. Trust me, when the real Last Days arrive (whenever that time comes), there won't be any second guessing it. Every Catholic, who remains Catholic, will know and there will be no mistake about it. Catholics won't say "I think we're in the Last Days." No! They'll be saying "These are the Last Days. How will we keep the faith?"
Until that time comes, and we're definitely not there yet, what we Catholics should really be thinking about is our own personal "last days," meaning the end of our earthly lives. How will we live in this life, so that we will die a good death, and be with our Lord in the next? Because I assure you; while you may not live to see the End of The World, when you die, that will be the end of your world. There is no practical difference for us between the Second Coming of Christ, and appearing before the Judgement Seat of Christ upon our individual deaths. Both will have the same effect. We will be standing before our Lord and Judge. It doesn't matter what period of history this happens in. Instead of spending a great deal of time contemplating the End of The World, as Catholics we should spend more time contemplating the end of our individual world -- meaning our own deaths -- because the odds are much higher that this is what we'll actually experience.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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